Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule the World

The first CD album I bought, was Tears For Fears greatest hits, Tears Roll Down and Everybody wants to rule the world was, and probably still is my favourite track on it.

Right from the opening it is at once uplifting but mellow, a song to listen to while you’re driving, the drums roll along, the guitars circle round and you can’t help to sing along, Welcome to your life / There’s no turning back ..

I flirted with Sowing the Seeds of Love, Shout, Change and Pale Shelter, I think I probably had a full blown affair with Woman in Chains for a long time, but I came back.  Especially when Christopher Laird on Radio Nowhere played the extended version, I was back with Everybody wants to rule the world, and I haven’t left it since.  A song that I will always remember, from my first CD, that I still have, somewhere.

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The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel [Maureen Lindley]

Natsuko was beside herself with grief.  Swaying back and forth she knelt on the floor by her sister’s bedside weeping and moaning, her eyes red and swollen from crying.  Her daughters fluttered round her like a cloud of moths, making strange sibilant noises of shock.

Being a distant cousin of the Chinese emperor does not save young Eastern Jewel from being sent to Japan to live with a relative of her fathers, after she is caught watching him with a servant girl.

In Japan she duels with her adoptive mother and is eventually married of to a Mongolian prince, but not before Japan seeps into her soul.  She ends up in Shanghai where she spies on her fellow countrymen for the Japanese as they try to secure a foothold in China.

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel is based on the real life story of Yoshiko Kawashima and narrated by her, an intriguing character who is hard to like, which left me struggling a bit at the beginning of the book.  She is incredibly manipulative and self serving, with scant regard for those she uses to further herself or her aims.  However Eastern Jewel is under no illusions about herself, who she is, what she wants out of life and when she sets a goal she holds no qualms about doing whatever it takes to achieve it.  She forms few close relationships in the book, with the most interesting being her step mother, Natsuko, who echoes through the book, long after Eastern Jewel has moved on.  Most other characters are used to further her aims or for pleasure, as Shanghai allows the darker side of her personality free reign, her only check being the disturbing dreams her conscience sends her throughout her life.

I have questioned if my dislike of Eastern Jewel was from her character, or perhaps because she has a traditionally male role, a self centred sexual philanderer who is driven purely by their ego.  I can’t think of another female character like Eastern Jewel in any other book I’ve read.  But I don’t think that is the case, had the character been male I would have had the same dislikes, it’s the characteristics that I disliked, more than the character.  Indeed I did find Easter Jewel fascinating, I admired her conviction to break out of her pre-destined role and how she bent her life around her will while at the same time acknowledging the dark parts of her own soul.  However the will that does not bend will break, and it is Eastern Jewels own determination that leads to her demise, but she and makes few, if any apologies along the way.

By passing the box to me Natsuko was sending me a cloaked message, one she knew I would understand.  At one and the same time it communicated her dislike of me and reminded me of my barrenness   For a brief moment she became splendid in my eyes.  I was reminded that women make more interesting enemies than men because of their subtlety and their ability to inflict exquisite, rather than brutal pain.

The Bee Gees – Massachussetts

OK I’m kinda cheating on this one, as it could easily be any one of the songs from The Very Best of the Bee Gees, except for Tragedy. It could easily have been I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You, Jive Talkin’ or You Win Again but it’s Massachussetts.  The last song (for a while) that comes from my mum and dads collection, after this I branch out on my own!

This Bee Gees album was another constant I remember when I was a kid, I don’t know if it was on all the time or if I just played it over and over again, but the whole album had a bit of everything on it and I never got enough.
I love the rolling guitar at the beginning of Massachusetts, and the chorus that always seemed louder than the rest of the song (I think all the Gees were singing).  I have no idea what the song is about, I just remember it’s a song that I still find myself singing every now and again..

Feel I’m goin’ back to Massachusetts / Something’s telling me I must go home. / And the lights all went out in Massachusetts / The day I left her standing on her own.

Josh Ritter – The Animal Years

So even though me and iTunes have fallen out massively since it’s latest update, I still cannot deny the fact that it introduced me to Josh Ritter.  The epic Thin Blue Flame was a free single of the week that I first heard Ritter’s wandering voice and his engaging lyrics, which add layer upon layer to his excellent compositions.  I quickly downloaded the full album, The Animal Years and it pretty much instantly became one of my favourite album, and that’s without it containing my favourite Josh Ritter track, Kathleen.

The simple strumming guitar intro to Girl in the War gives a summery feel that is defied by the poignant sentiment of words.
Peter said to Paul / You know all those words we wrote / Are just the rules of the game / And the rules are the first to go
The drum and bass are a brilliant counter point to the guitar and the orchestration gradually builds as the lyrics paint an evocative lament of a man whose girl has been called away to war.
But I got a girl in the war Paul her eyes are like champagne / They sparkle bubble over and in the morning all you got in rain
It is a simple beautiful song which I never get bored of listening to.

Wolves kicks in with galloping piano and drums and Ritters vocal rides in over the top
The winter came / There was little left between us / skin and bones and love won’t make a meal / I found my eyes lifting over your shoulder / to the wolves at the edge of the field
In the words of a friend of mine, Ritter has a beautiful turn of phrase and wolves has an uplifting vocal, even though the lyrics are somewhat melancholy.  A quick look on songmeanings.net and it clearly means different things to different people.
Sometimes in the frozen nights I go roaming in the bed you used to share with me / I wake in the field with the cold and the lonesome, the moons the only face I see

Wolves fades straight into the subdued organ of Monster Ballads, which is then sunk beneath it’s regimental drums while the piano and bass skip over the top with Ritter’s boxed in vocals.

Lillian, Egypt is probably the most evocative song on the whole album.  An old fashioned romp of true loves running away together.  The guitar speeds up with the drums and as the protagonist relives his tale, complete with a saloon style piano solo
I remember back in Illinois I found her / The lily of the valley / The lily of the West was a rose / The daughter of the biggest big town banker / He kept her like a princess / I stole her like the Fort Knox gold

Idaho is a stripped down confession, just the sparse strumming guitar and a ghostly vocal
I gave up a life of crime / gave it to a friend of mine

One More Mouth is one of my two favourite songs on the album.  A slow, soft ballad lead by an electric guitar that bounces slowly through the intro to the clear vocals.
You act like you don’t need nobody else / And you dance like you don’t need nobody else / And all the other moths need light to circle round / You just fly … around yourself
The slow looping guitar rolls under Ritter’s questioning vocal before the soft drum kicks in and the song, and you, winds down.
Honey why you gotta hide your face from me / Will I starve in this eclipse while you treat every hungry kiss / like one more mouth to feed

A piano led introduction, before a steam train drum beat with a soft guitar riding over the top, Good Man crept up on me to become the other favourite song on the album.  Another song where they lyrical imagery conjures up different meanings for different people, but for me, the break down in the middle is the best part of the song.
You’re not a good shot buy I’m worse / And there’s so much where we ain’t been yet / So swing up on this little horse / The only thing we’ll hit is sunset

Clocking in at just under ten minutes, Thin Blue Flame feels like a labour of love to listen, as if you’ll only reach the end if you’re a big big Ritter fan.  But it’s a brilliant song, the instruments lifting and dropping as the vocals preach over the top and the whole song builds and drops, the guitar, and then piano rising slowly, as Ritter’s voice urges them louder to a peak that drops just before it explodes, and then starts again, before a final melancholy verse takes the song to it’s rousing crescendo.
If God’s up there he’s in a cold dark room / The heavenly host are just the cold dark moons / He bent down and made the world in seven days / And ever since he’s been walking away

A haunting, simple, piano love song finishes the album, with Ritter hoping he’s in time to save his lover
Under wide blue skies / There’s a place to lie / For me and Evelyn to hide tonight / I’ll try my best to make a go / but I’m not sure and  I don’t know / Oh Chariots / If you’re out there please swing low

The other tracks, In the Dark, an almost traditional ballad and Best of the Best, a stripped bare reminiscence of experience, are also good, and the whole album is a perfect example of Ritter’s sheer talent for crafting a beautiful song with wonderful evocative lyrics that conjure imagery in front of your eyes.

Living In A Box – Living In A Box

We’re back in my parents car again, visiting relatives, getting up at 3am to drive to Cornwall so we could miss the traffic, and arriving at about 9am (after the obligatory garage stop when we got lost)  to be told that we couldn’t get into our caravan until 12, which always drove my mum mad.

But there was a new tape!  I can’t remember what it was called, but it was an 80’s compilation and included The Circus by Erasure, I found Lovin’ by Steve Walsh, and Living In a Box by Living In A Box. While The Circus intrigued me and I found Lovin’ would come back to me years and years later in a few clubs, it was Living In A Box that I loved straight away.  It was a perfect song.  You could sing to it, you could nod and dance to it, it had good beats and a bit of electric guitar in the break, and synths and screams from the singers! And when your a kid and stuck in the car, it was a song that was filled with energy, so it kept you awake as you were sat in the back watching  a tractor trundling along in front of you for 10 miles. I used to love the song, and was always annoyed when it finished, particularly as it was the 1st song on the tape, which meant that I had to sit through the whole tape before I would hear it again.  It was a good day when I discovered about 12″ versions and extended mixes!

We lost the tape eventually, all I remember is that had a blue cover, and those three songs still stick in my mind and in fact, all three are in my iTunes even now.

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun [J.R.R. Tolkien]

Laughing said Vingi:
‘my lord shall I tell
that in courts of Gjuki
no kings are left?
There rules a queen,
a rune-conner;
his weighty words
a woman judgeth?

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is J.R.R. Tolkiens version of the great legend of northern antiquity.  Telling the saga of Odin’s chosen one, Sigurd, the slayer of the dragon Fafnir, whose hoard he takes as his own.  He awakens the valkyrie Brynhild and after their betrothal Sigurd becomes blood brothers of the great Niflung princes Gunnar and Hogni.

However oaths are broken and Sigurd betrayed and slain.  The brothers, after marrying their sister Gudrun to the mighty Attila the Hun, have to face up to the mighty chief as he casts his eye past their sister and onto their gold.

There is of course a lot more involved, magic swords, mischievious gods and great horses, which are all explained in the lengthly introduction, commentary and appendices.

The background of the original sagas is explained by Christopher Tolkien, along with his fathers notes and thoughts, including drafts of the poems plus lecture notes he delivered.  It is interesting for glimpses into Tolkiens own mythology (in case you ever wandered the origin of the word Ents or Wargs).
The names in the hobbit were drawn from Norse legend, rather than his own mythology.  The tale of Sigurd is far removed from Middle Earth, although they both contain a Mirkwood, and a gold hoarding dragon is slain, but it is possible to see connections and possible inspirations for Tolkiens own epic sagas.

The translation and version, in two separate poems, are masterful.  He deviates from the original narrative several times, sometimes to create a more homegenous whole, other times because of the state of the original sagas and what is known about them.  The commentary following each poem details these annd attempts to explain why.

Probably more suited to absolute Tolkien fans, or those interested in Scandanavian mythology, the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is an epic tale in it’s own right, and also interesting for the insights it offers into Tolkiens own mythology.

The Night Circus [Erin Morgenstern]

Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more firefly-like lights flicker to life.  They pop as they brighten, some accompanied by a shower of glowing white sparks and a bit of smoke.  The people nearest to the gates take a few steps back.

I can’t say what attracted me to The Night Circus.  I have no particular interest in Circuses.  The last one I went to (which may have also even been the first) ended prematurely due to a power failure. While they can be exhilarating I just find them pointless (bah humbug). But a night circus, that according to the back cover, was there one day when it wasn’t there the next, now that intrigued me, that sounded like magic.

While I wouldn’t agree with The Times that it is breathtaking, I do agree with the Independent that it is dazzling and even more with The Guardian that it is Enchanting.
I don’t want to outline the plot too much because I think part of the it’s appeal is the mystery when you start.

The prose is plain and simple, and it works because it allows Erin Morgenstern to describe the magic of the circus and the story without the words getting in the way.  During the passages where you are in the circus, it’s like Morgenstern is painting a picture directly into your imagination.  It made me feel like a kid again, where you really believed, and wanted so much, for things in books to be real, which I have not felt for a long time.  While I love reading historical fiction, and wish I could be there at that particular time and place, this was different, more joyful and more imaginative.

You go along, finding out about stuff as the characters do, inter-sped with your own tour of the circus, and the story slowly becomes darker from the edges, yet although you can sense it, and feel it, it always seems just out of sight.  The plot rolls along at a fair pace, although the time jumps are a big confusing as you have to remember you are in fact a few years after the chapter you have just read, but then back a few years before.  Morgenstern takes the time to detail the circus, until you feel a part of it.  Slowly but surely, along with the characters you feel you are in it, seeing the tents and performers, you care about them, even the ones you never meet.

Again I was intrigued about how the story was going to end, and part of me feels it ended in a rush, but then I thought, maybe Erin Morgenstern enjoyed writing and creating the circus so much that she realised it might never end, it could also be that I finished the last chunk of chapters in one go and didn’t like the bump into reality when I finished..

It’s a wonderful story, and even I would be sad to leave the Night Circus as dawn creeps over the horizon.