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Tag Archives: Music

“Don’t Think You Knew You Were in this Song” – Goodbye Bowie.

You are going to read this many times for mine’s a common tale even though it feels otherwise.

Short version: I grew up in Nowheresville. I grew up, left Nowheresville, and found David Bowie’s artistic output to be a constant touchstone. Bowie passed away today and I am very, very sad.

Longer version: I grew up in rural Denmark in a family whose cultural references were mainly the Great American Songbook and 1950s American pop culture. The school playground was a hard, cold, bewildering place. I knew I had to fit in somehow and that I couldn’t manage. The other kids loved Disney, sport, and Madonna while I was really into prehistoric archaeology, art history, and Gene Kelly.

When I was 18, I moved to London. It was the first big move in a life that’s seen quite a few big moves. I spent my days looking after spoiled kids and my nights going to art galleries and listening to music. London was in the early throes of what would later be known as Britpop – the rank commercialism of the Blur vs Oasis feud was not even a glimmer in a record exec’s eyes. I discovered music that was to be mine – Suede, Pulp, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, and dEUS among others. Drifting towards David Bowie was inevitable. Strange, raw, androgynous, glamorous, queer, desolate, alien, and utterly beautiful Bowie.

One of my favourite songs is by an obscure 1990s band called Subcircus called 20th Century Bitch and there is such a beautiful line: “There is a hole in the sky / Where Bowie fell through” before it continues to blur the lines between gender, desire, and self.

I made more big moves. I ended up in Copenhagen. And I met people who were strange, raw, androgynous, glamorous, queer, desolate, alien, and utterly beautiful themselves. Bowie and his cultural brethren/descendants became shorthand for a lot of identity-making. We discovered we were free to define (and crucially choosing not to define) ourselves in every way that mattered.  Bowie paved the way.

One of my favourite films is Todd Haynes’ glam musical Velvet Goldmine. It is a thinly veiled Bowie biopic and isn’t particularly complimentary towards him (you cannot blame Bowie for turning down requests to feature his music). It is a wildly ambititous, crazily messy film. I love it. There is an unforgettable moment where Christian Bale’s character points to Brian Slade (i.e. Bowie) on TV and exclaims: That is me! Mum, that is me! That powerful moment of recognising something buried so deep inside yourself in someone else. That joyful surprise of realising that you are not alone even if it feels like that sitting in a shabby living room in the middle of nowhere. There is a whole world out there where you’ll feel some sense of belonging: That is me! Mum, that is me!

Along the way I managed to catch David Bowie live. He was about the size of my thumb nail and his charisma hit me squarely in the face. I could not take my eyes off him. He made you feel like you were a member of an exclusive club of misfits and outcasts – yet Bowie was touring 1. Outside and we were 80,000 people in front of him at the Roskilde Festival. This was part of the paradox and fascination with David Bowie: so much intimacy in such a remote way. Bowie was like a two-way mirror. We all looked at him and saw ourselves reflected back at us – but there was always something else lurking behind it all. Something we could never reach or see.

I am very sad today but most of all I think of the people who knew David Jones rather than David Bowie. They are the ones who really feel the loss. The rest of us mourn the man and the masks that brought us solace from loneliness and a sense of freedom.

Clutching My Gladioli – On Making It Work as an Indie

Currently BBC4 is showing a series about the independent music business in the UK. The series traces how record labels like Factory, Rough Trade, Mute, 4AD, and Beggars Banquet made it possible for less mainstream bands to release records. Many of the bands turned out to be hugely influential and enduring (Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Depeche ModeThe Stone Roses, Suede, Franz Ferdinand, and Arctic Monkeys to name but a few!) and today UK indie labels continue to champion new music that would never be signed by major labels.

As someone working as an independent knitting designer, I recognised a lot of what was being covered in the documentaries – from small record labels operating out of a bedsit in Sheffield via creatives forming loose partnerships to dealing with complex distribution problems/solutions and worries over intellectual properties. I love many of the bands covered by the documentaries, but it was eye-opening to see how much of the amazing music was being created in an environment that was in many, many ways similar to how the indie knitting industry works.

Everything I do is created at my kitchen table. I have a small nook with a desktop computer (which needs replacing) and some bookshelves where I keep all my designing resources. I create my own layouts, my partner does my photography & art, I model my own designs, and everything passes through my hands. I deal with emails, accounts, wholesale, distribution, workshop dates, social media, marketing (which is always my sore spot), and obviously pattern designing & writing. I hire in technical editors to work on my patterns, but what you see is what you get and you get me.

And most indie designers work like that. Some have pooled resources, others have grown to the stage where they have one or two people on staff. But we are all just very, very small independent ventures.

Why be independent? Is it that much fun to do accounts at 11am on a Friday night? I think most people understand the allure of having full creative control – and yes, being able to decide what to design in which yarn is amazing – but the allure of intellectual property is even stronger. Quite simply, indies choose to own the right to their work.

I learned a hard lesson when I first started out: I handed over the rights to a pattern for a pittance and saw somebody else make a lot of money from it when I could barely cover rent. And that got me thinking. I still work with mainstream publications on occasion (and some of them are incredibly indie-friendly and lovely!) but time & experience has taught me to be wary of Big Besuited Companies offering me deals too good to be true.

Indies pay the price by having to do all the things – including all the tough things mainstream publishing would normally have done for us – but I maintain it is worth it.

So, clutching my gladioli, I began thinking about where indie knitting businesses are heading.

The BBC4 documentaries on UK indie record labels traced the trajectory from bedsit record labels with rough DIY graphics to bands like The Smiths appearing on prime time TV and finally a world where indie labels are regularly outselling the big record companies.

Knitting is not the music business (there’s a big difference in gender make-up for one thing! It made me sad to see many female musicians simply disappear as indie music became bigger in the 1980s and 1990s) but maybe there are lessons to be learned there.

Here are some of the lessons I have gleaned from the documentaries:

  • Surround yourself with people who understand and support your ethos.
  • Don’t try to follow the crowd but embrace what sets you apart.
  • Take control of as much of your own operations as you possibly can.
  • Choose your collaborators with care and imagination.
  • “Indie”can become a very diluted term when Big Besuited Companies realise it is an untapped market – this will result in products that look, talk, and walk like indies but have big money and committees behind them.
  • Digital marketplaces mean that everybody can sell their products (music, books, knitting patterns) so quality control is difficult. Indies still need gatekeepers (or “curators” as I believe the Pinterest generation calls it!)
  • Don’t believe the hype lest you want to turn into Morrissey!!

There isn’t a right or wrong way of making it work  as a creative. Some people work best as part of a larger team with stylists, graphic artists, distribution centres, remote printing, and so forth. Then you have stubborn donkeys like me who enjoy having my fingers in every pie.

What about you as a knitter?

Some knitters love following a particular design house and yarn brand with big budgets and aspirational marketing; others find themselves more at ease at an indie show where they get to know the dyers and the designers. Some people prefer buying a magazine with glossy ads and a plethora of patterns; others like buying single patterns they have especially chosen for one particular yarn. And some prefer to just spin their own yarns and knit without a pattern.

The world is your oyster – you can to pick and choose as you like. And as an indie girl that really makes me happy.

Southwards Bound – Part 1

Mid-1990s I lived in London. The timing was impeccable; it was the year that Blur released Parklife, Pulp finally broke through with His’n’HersManic Street Preachers released the seminal The Holy Bible, and Suede completed Dog Man Star (one of my all-time favourite albums to this day). I was on the periphery of all these things, but a brief moment in time I lived where a major cultural shift was gathering strength before sweeping away everything in its wake. It is so odd to return to London now because the London of those halcyon days no longer exists. I have been back many times since the 1990s and, every time I visit London now, it feels like the city is slipping further and further away. London still exists but its heart is now on the outskirts of the city.

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Shades of grey in the Bloomsbury area

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Pomp & circumstance in Hyde Park. I was walking back from an appointment at the embassy.

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Assyrian stone relief; British Museum. These depictions of sheep are important to Indo-European linguists, by the way.

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Early highlight: Soviet revolutionary ceramics at British Museum.

After spending less than two days in London chasing my own tail, meeting with embassy staff, and doing research in the British Museum, I left for Cambridgeshire where my good friend Joanne Scrace lives. Staying with her proved to be the perfect antidote to all the razzmatazz of the capital (sorry, had to get another Pulp reference in there).

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It spooked me slightly how much this looks like where I grew up.

After staying with Joanne & her gorgeous family, my batteries were recharged and I went to teach Nordic Knitting at Cambridge’s beautiful The Sheep Shop.

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Beautiful display – The Sheep Shop was full of gorgeous samples.

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Sarah of The Sheep Shop – full of warmth and personality.

I had a fabulous time teaching the class – the students were smart and asked on-the-nose questions. I am only sorry that I could not stay longer and get to know everyone better. Hopefully this won’t be my last time teaching in Cambridge!

I’ll leave my return to London and my second class for another blog post. I have much to share – including some details about an exciting KAL and a brand new design.

Children of the Echo

We are children of the echo. Born just after some kind of explosion, and doomed to spend our lives working backwards to try and get as close as we can to the moment of that Big Bang.

(..)

But the whole point of the Beatles is that they were ordinary. Four working-class boys from Liverpool who showed that not only could they create art that stood comparison with that produced by “the establishment” – they could create art that pissed all over it. From the ranks of the supposedly uncouth, unwashed barbarians came the greatest creative force of the 20th century. It wasn’t meant to be that way. It wasn’t officially sanctioned. But it happened – and that gave countless others from similar backgrounds the nerve to try it themselves.

(..)

People of my generation felt this obscure pang – this feeling that we’d somehow missed out on something amazing. So we tried to make it happen again – but exactly the same. You cannot do a karaoke version of a social revolution (good fun trying though). What changed in the interim? Why was Br**pop doomed to failure? Too many factors to go into here, but one was: too much information. Too much reverence. Wearing the same clothes and taking the same drugs will not make us into Beatles. It will make us fat and ill.

(..)

We, the children of the echo, should get a life. We, the children of the echo, should know better. Time to move on. Imagine that.

Jarvis Cocker on The Beatles is a very, very good read.

You Little Wonder You

I am currently re-reading Dorian Gray. Happy 65th Birthday to a man with a portrait of his own hidden away in the attic.

Honourable mentions:
+ The iconic performance of Rock’n’Roll Suicide at Hammersmith Apollo, 1973
+ Five Years performed on the Old Grey Whistle Test 1972
+ I adore Slow Burn, such an underrated song from Heathen. Live 2002.
+ And “Heroes” always did sound better in the German version.

Desert Island Discs: Day 1

I enjoy listening to Desert Island Discs on my iPod as I make my way to work. The people you think will be interesting rarely are; the people I don’t know or feel indifferent towards end up my favourites. Lady Caroline Cranbrook‘s episode was an absolute joy, for instance.

And so for my own pleasure (and indulgence), I decided to make my own Desert Island Disc iPod playlist. I added far more than eight records to my playlist, of course, but for your listening pleasure I shall stick to eight records (one per entry) and even add a few words.

I grew up in a very large family filled with people obsessed with (mostly American) pop culture circa 1940-1965. This recent Guardian article on so-called superfans rattled me because I had no idea that this sort of behaviour was in any way unusual. I grew up surrounded by pop culture memorabilia: big murals of Sinatra et al on the walls, concert tickets carefully curated, mountains of carefully sourced vinyls, autographs, signed photos, VHS tapes of 1940s musicals, and handwritten databases detailing when this or that song was recorded. What do you mean your childhood wasn’t like that?

Over dinner my uncles would toss out the first names of stars, as though they knew them personally: Frank, Dean, Bing .. Occasionally they did know the people they gossiped about. My dotty aunt T. briefly dated Gustav. My other dotty aunt A. semi-stalked Otto for four decades. Looking back, I can see that this approved pop culture was predominantly white pop culture. It was also two or three decades out of sync with contemporary pop culture.

My gran has always loved Fats Domino. I remember her playing Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame and I Hear You Knocking whenever my uncles weren’t around (“Fats is okay, but he’s no Frank, if you know what I mean” – oh, I can hear them). And for me Fats Domino is about happiness, about feeling loved and about a tiny glimpse of freedom: there is a world beyond my large, chaotic family and so many things to discover.

I am the product of my family, of course. I had a phase of obsessively hoarding bootlegs, travelling to foreign countries for concerts, subscribing to mailing lists and knowing the name of certain musicians’ dogs – but unlike my uncles it did not turn into a lifestyle. To this day, I have a thing for 1940s MGM musicals and I’m still on a first-name basis with Frank – but it is Fats Domino that I keep coming back to.

Lovely Things

This has to be my song of summer 2011. It’s so lovely in all its pomo pop glory.

Other lovely things right now:

  • I find this picture of David Tennant in the Fright Night remake strangely compelling. I always did have a weakness for almost-Glaswegian men wearing eyeliner.
  • “Not since Bowie before him had anyone been as responsible for raising awkward questions between parents and their sons as Brett Anderson.” Suede is back in fashion here in the UK – so the media say. Suede fell hard from grace when fey, lithe men wearing girls’ shirts were displaced by laddish beer lout music (i.e. Oasis). I particularly liked the quote: “Apparently it wasn’t just me who’d been sat at home in 1995 doused in glitter and eyeliner watching Performance on repeat” .. oh no, dear journalist, oh no.
  • I should rewatch Velvet Goldmine soon too.
  • Moving on from eyeliner and glitter, how about a Warhol Spock? Okay, so it’s Leonard Nimoy wearing makeup but it’s slightly different..
  • My beloved kiwi band The Phoenix Foundation is being championed by the mighty hipster godfather himself, Jarvis Cocker. Going Fishing is always on my iPod. Kiwi music is the best, honestly.

And with that, I am off to back my bag. Not-so-sunny Aberdeenshire awaits and I have books and knitting to pack.

Boom! Boom! Chaka! Chaka!

This is one of my favourite weeks of the year: the Eurovision Song Contest week. For my non-European readers, imagine American Idol with 45 different countries competing. Then add xenophobia, bad blood, neighbourly love, dubious ethnic costumes, weird instruments, and mangled lyrics. The combination is oddly compelling.

The first semi-finale took place yesterday with the second one happening tomorrow and the finale is on Saturday. Here are some selected highlights:

(* I have heaps of ideas of who to represent the UK at the ESC. Alexandra Burke, Little Boots and The Saturdays would be fabulous if completely unlikely competitors.)

Just to finish off, some of my recent ESC favourites: Turkey 2008Bosnia & Herzegovia 2008 (which included knitting ladies!), Romania 2006 and France 2007. For sheer WTF-ness, try Azerbaijan 2008. For cuddliness, try Norway 2009 (which won).

And Sweden 1983 which spawned a life-long Eurovision love.

Greenery

Dear FirstGlasgow,

I am interested in learning why your bus driver wanted to charge me an additional 45p for a return ticket within Zone 1. I was wearing a green coat (from a reputable High Street chain) at the time which the driver was quite obviously eye-balling before informing me that a Zone 1 ticket was “For you, £3.45”. Surely FirstGlasgow does not base its pricing upon what a customer wears, so what gives?

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Karie Bookish.

In case anybody wonders why I’m discussing my wardrobe in a complaints letter, here’s the Wikipedia article on Sectarianism in Glasgow. My green coat is just a green coat, but unfortunately some people see it differently. Green equals support for Celtic FC in their eyes and so I never wear my coat when the Old Firm are playing each other. People get very silly sometimes, unfortunately.

In less serious news, I cast off my Skald shawl the other day and unpinned it today. Photos and info to follow. The yarn, a Faroese 1ply, blocked beautifully but it does look like a cat slept on top of the shawl. It’s really quite hairy. I have cast on for the next shawl, the Rock Island Shawl, in Old Maiden Aunt merino/silk lace (colourway: strange rock’n’rollers). The shawl is actually meant for Ms Old Maiden Aunt herself, Lilith, and I hope she’ll like it. It has been ages since I promised to knit her a shawl..

.. I’ve been knitting whilst listening to Enzology, a podcast from Radio New Zeland about one of my all-time favourite bands: Split Enz (sort-of like New Zealand’s answer to The Beatles, only not). It is a heady combination: lace, sunshine, and early Split Enz (youtube link). The combination has truly blown the cobwebs from my brain.

Less than two weeks to the Eurovision Song Contest, though, and I’m still not excited. Maybe I need to remove a few more cobwebs..

Day Five: Song


august09 014Hello FLS, my old friend,
I’ve come to knit you again,
Because pretty yarn came softly creeping,
And I can knit you while sleeping,
And the shawl that was frogged yesterday
Still remains
Within the knitting basket of doom.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Wondered if I should knit Cobblestone,
‘neath the halo of a second-hand lamp,
I turned my eyes to the weather cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of
bright light
That split the night
And touched the knitting basket of doom.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand possible projects, maybe more.
Projects without assigned yarns,
Projects with scary-looking charts,
Projects that look fabulous – but not on me
And not one made me
Disturb the knitting basket of doom.

Head said you do know
Your yarn stash like a cancer grows.
Find some sweater amount for Hey Teach*,
Take these patterns and an FO this month you may reach.
But my hands like idle raindrops fell,
And rested
By the knitting basket of doom.

And so to the great knitting goddess I prayed
I looked at items I had previously made.
And the signs were flashing,
By the sweater amounts I had been stashing.
And the signs said, top-down it shall be
It’ll be easy garter-stitch and fancy-free
And suit that lovely wool-alpaca yarn you
have kept in the knitting basket of doom..

(apologies to Simon and Garfunkel)

*no longer in my queue as per April 2011

Alas, I have suddenly fallen ill and I am currently resting in my bed. I hope you enjoy this little filk which I originally wrote in August 2009. I have updated the links though :)

I hope to be fully recovered in time for tomorrow’s blog post. Until then you can find more blogs participating in the Knitting & Crochet Blog Week by googling 2KCBWDAY5.