Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


March 4, 2010

4-3-10 Born Under A Bad Sign

In the High St. today, buying storage boxes – there will be more about storage boxes – I was leaving the shop and noticed by the door a ‘Jumbo Drinking Chess Set’. This is…?

A chess board large enough to accommodate sixteen shot-glasses a side with chess symbols marked on them. What kind of game is that? If you want to stand a chance of winning you take as few shots as possible and sacrifice as many as you can at speed. By the time Black has cleared your pawns your endgame’s going to be a cavalry charge against a drunk who’ll likely have forgotten the moves and may challenge you to fisticuffs. I’ve known some hardened drinkers but I’ve never known anyone to roll out of the pub dying for a game of chess.

This evening I took a look at Albert King on YouTube playing Born Under A Bad Sign. My friend Michelle used his line ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck you’d have none at all.’ Not strictly true but… maybe later on that one.

Albert’s a fellow left-hander but like Elizabeth Cotten (‘Freight Train’) he leaves the right-handed strings in place and plays upside-down, specialising in stinging little licks and magisterial riffs. In the clip I looked at he made it a little more interesting for himself with his middle-finger taped up in a splint and still played better than I could dream of on a good night.

There have been nights of desolation when I’ve plugged in my electric guitar to let it all out in some blues-bending into neighbour-friendly headphones. What comes out is intermediate proficiency with the scales, no wailing cry from the heart, and I end up feeling more despondent and merely competent.

However the aural illusion of playing really loud can be therapeutic, even if youthful doses of high-decibel thrills have left their tinnitus traces and urged low-volume caution in my advancing years.

I hesitate to record my smitten-ness with the Radio 4 sitcom “Fags, Mags and Bags” because my vulnerabilities to music and comedy in particular seem to be box-office death. It’s running on Play Again as I type. Who says men can’t multi-task?

I play it several times a week while it’s available because there’s no sign of a cd collection so far. At some point I imagine the complete F,M&B will turn up as Pocasts. I don’t own an iPod yet but surely it’s only a matter of time before, like the mobile phone, they’re mandatory.

At least they don’t tssk-tssk like the Walkman of old and on a recent shopping-trip I passed a black girl with a happy-happy grin dancing at the bus-stop to some music all her own and it cheered me up all the way to the Co-op, so I shall save my rant about the insular slack-acne-jawed torpor that seems to pass for cool amongst the plugged-in rank-and-file Barbour-capped yout’.

The use of English in F,M&B washes over me with the same pleasure as Viv Stanshall’s “Sir Henry At Rawlinson End”, an immersion in Stanshall’s word-world and Times Roman vocal style I’ve returned to over decades. I should know it by heart. It’s always reassuringly familiar but apart from a few phrases (‘That was inedible and there wasn’t enough of it’) I’ve never committed it to memory as a party-piece.

So, anyway, so as not to curse the series with my recommendation, that’s just a note.

  1. Now that’s interesting. I’ve never managed to cure my own blues by playing them out, either. Distract myself sometimes, but not more than that. And, even more rarely, find creative juices flowing in the process of being distracted. Because mild depression oftenseems ot be good for the introspective side of creativity, just as happiness helps the other kind – if extrospective isn’t a word it ought to be. Sometimes taking that creativity further is a large enough distraction to be effective, but it has raely happened for me while I’ve been making the effort to get rid of a down.

    Listening to someone else is another matter. That can be mood lifting, at least for a while. I suspect that the mechanics of performance get in the way of the catharsis when it’s your own fingers doing the walking on home.

    That Albert King clip is a wonderful time capsule of costume and hairstyles, quite apart from some fine music. Thanks for the link.

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 7, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

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