Thursday, January 16, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 16):"THE GOOD OLD DAYS" (2002) The Libertines

This is my 365th post on blogocentrism. If I stick to my intention to post a song a day, having done 15 so far, I will very nearly double the number of posts since the inception of this blog. I could do in one year what it has taken me 7 ½ years to do? We’ll see.

In the spirit of diversifying a bit, it strikes me that I should try to share the wealth. Most of the songs I talk about will be from the Seventies and Eighties because those were my heydays of seeking out new music, and most of the artists will be people who began their careers before the Nineties. And yet. There should be some room for youth, don’tcha think?
John Hassell, Gary Powell, Carl Barat, Pete Doherty

The Clash, 1981
So, today’s song actually comes from a band who got their start—and broke up, after two LPs—in the 21st century. The Libertines. This foursome, led by Carl Barรขt and Pete Doherty, were the discovery of my daughter’s early twenties, what she’ll look back on the way I look back on Talking Heads and The Clash. What’s more, the debut LP, Up the Bracket, from The Libertines was produced by Mick Jones, thus connecting it to The Clash, my favorite band when Kajsa was born. So there. 

This song, sung by Pete Doherty, is my favorite track by The Libertines. And its theme suits well my task of not only scrolling through the various ages of my listening history but also trying to make something of it. Like as one should say: well, I didn’t have much of a life, but I sure heard a lot of music! Doherty’s song makes the case that allegiance to music is one of the things that makes life worthwhile: If you've lost your faith in love and music / Oh the end won't be long / Because if it's gone for you then I too may lose it /And that would be wrong. 

In a way, when she shared this song with me, I could imagine those words coming from my kid to me, because if there’s anything I’ve “bequeathed” to her, it’s my taste in music. Which is a way of saying she will probably know almost all the tracks I talk about on here, all 365 of them. If I lose my faith, the end won’t be long? Maybe so. And if I lose it, then she could too, “and that would be wrong.”

Of course, Doherty’s the one saying this—though I think it’s a great verse because it’s so easy to “get behind it”—and that’s reassuring too. The guy leads one of those tabloid-exploited lives with plenty of substance abuse, and dating models, and the whole Keith Richards Revisited thing. Which I guess, in a way, I respect because, well, it worked for the Stones… but you’d hate for him to lose his faith in music and become just another worthless celebrity.
The Libertines were sorta poised to be the Stones cum The Clash and so on. But they didn’t keep it together as a band. The business ain’t what it used to be. And that reflection is also built into this song, and answered too, with the lines: “I've tried so hard to keep myself from falling / Back into my bad old ways / And it chars my heart to always hear you calling / Calling for the good old days / Because there were no good old days / These are the good old days.”

I can’t tell you how much I loved these words while trapped in my “limbo” of the early Aughts. Doherty’s “bad old ways” aren’t mine, but still . . . we’ve all got habits we need to break, don’t we? (Listen to how he draws out “the list of things we said we'd do tomorrow”). And “chars my heart” is just a great phrase, but the call to the “good old days” was easy enough to hear, then. First of all, I was newly past 40, my kid was a kid no more, my wife was a new grandma and me a grand-stepdad, and the most dismayingly venal president imaginable was in the White House. And not only was vinyl dead (I’m proud to say I have Up the Bracket on vinyl though) but discs were dying too with the onset of mp3s and the iPod, which first appeared the year before this album.

Which might lead one to think about Doherty’s point in saying “there were no good old days / These are the good old days.”  Like I was saying—if your “old days” weren’t that good to begin with (if you’re twenty-something, “old days” are childhood, and if you're middle-aged, “old days” were, often, when you were “struggling”), then who needs to look back on them?  And what if, indeed, as he asserts (maybe) “these are the good old days”? Because, for that generation, they are. What’s interesting to me, palimpsest fashion, is that when I was that age—Doherty was 23 when the album came out, Kajsa 21—it was the time of Reagan (who I hated, though less than I hated W), and the time of The Clash, and spending a lot of time around art students. For my daughter, an art student, it was the time of W. and The Libertines. Good old days 2.0.

What’s the opposite of “chars my heart”?  Because that’s what happens to my heart when these guys kick in on the lines “The Arcadian dream has fallen through / But the Albion sails on course.” For a long time—til I got in the habit of checking lyrics online—I wasn’t even certain what he said there. But I didn’t care. The way he said it and the way the music spiked to support it pumped a lot of blood back into my not-quite-charred-yet heart.  It’s sheer adrenalin, the kind that comes in a desperate act—to “man the decks” in this case—to get the hell out of wherever you are and onto something else.  The song kinda peters out after that, when you’re really hoping that spike will come around again. So, instead, you just have to replay the song.

Queen Bodicea, by the way, was a 1st century warrior who tried to drive the Romans from the British Isles.  Didn’t, but gave them a run for their money, as recounted by the Romans. She’s “dead and gone,” Doherty says—and Queen Victoria, who is also “dead and gone” to say nothing of her empire, took Bodicea as a namesake. Anyway, “her spirit in her children’s children’s children, it lives on.”  That’s something, I guess. Somebody's got to harangue those blighters.

John Opie's Bodicea Haranguing the Britons

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