Friday, 29 March 2013

Mull of Kintyre

It's funny how certain songs can take on different and sometimes sinister meanings to the ones originally intended when considered in a broader cultural landscape. Take for example The Beatles' song 'Helter Skelter', which is a McCartney-penned tune that allows him to serviceably ape John Lennon's stronger rock aesthetic and is ostensibly about a children's playground ride. When considered as part of Charles Manson's manifesto in the late 60s, it will be forever be culturally linked to Manson's brief murderous rampage, which is a pity, because The Beatles don't deserve that comparison.

Like The Manson Family, The Ludlow Family also have their own unofficial anthem - 'Mull of Kintyre' by Wings. Bizarrely, it is also a McCartney-penned tune, but unlike 'Helter Skelter' the song already had a bad reputation when it was released in 1977. This can simply be put down to a case of bad timing, as a gentle folk song about McCartney's home didn't really fit in with the dominant punk sound of the time. McCartney was also increasingly being criticised for being a bit too comfortable and writing too many 'silly love songs', even though ballads are probably his strongest suit as a composer - you don't need to look further than 'Hey Jude' for proof of that.

I admittedly have towed the popular line of dislike for the song and have been dismissive of 'Mull of Kintyre' in the past, but I have started to warm to it in recent years - there is just too much family history associated with the song to not have some sort of affection for it. I'm like the opposite of Alex from 'A Clockwork Orange', who was taught to associate Beethoven with ultra-violence. Instead I have come to associate 'Mull of Kintyre' with pleasant and often hysterical memories from my childhood.

For a start, every New Year's Eve our family would sing 'Mull of Kintyre' at the stroke of midnight for our celebrated Ludlow family street parties. Sadly, these occurred during the 1970s and would often involve conga lines. My mother never knew the words to 'Auld Lange Syne', so instead she would sing 'Mull of Kintyre'. This is typical of my mother's often bizarre leaps of logic and I really think she could have been a comedian if, indeed, she had ever been aware of how hysterically funny she can be. I'm still not sure.

I also seem to recall the video clip being played during the crucial nexus point between episodes of 'Doctor Who' and 'The Goodies' on the ABC. This is probably where my sister Karen developed her unwavering love for the song. I was a  bit more reticent but anything played during this time usually is filtered directly into a child's cerebral cortex and cannot help but have at least some positive connotations on a developing mind. Another favourable memory from that time is 'Love is All' from 'The Butterfly Ball'.

'Mull of Kintyre' probably reached its lowest point in my estimation during the 1990s when I played in several semi-popular Brisbane bands. I've never been in a 'grunge' band, but as a young man I couldn't help but be self-consciously aware of the dominant paradigm of the time. Often I would invite my parents to the more low-key and less sleazy shows and invariably my mother would yell out for us  to play 'Mull of Kintyre' at some point during the set. I think we actually indulged her a few times.

All the bands I was associated with invariably played at my wedding. My wife Edwina played in a band called The Zebras, who did a tight professional set. I, however, decided to just play with my buddies in a ramshackle jam-band that started out entertaining enough, but soon devolved into an unholy drunken mess. We ended the night with a funk-rock fusion version of 'Mull of Kintyre', with me slurring the half remembered lyrics over the top. It makes me laugh and cringe in equal quantities, but I think it was a fitting end to a day that began with my friends Dylan and David singing Willie Nelson's 'Crazy' through a megaphone as the wedding processional song.

I've actually been reassessing Paul McCartney's solo work in recent years and think some of it is really great. I've always liked the singles 'Band on The Run' and 'Let 'em In' but I have also recently embraced whole albums such as 'McCartney II' which is a great example of how to do a home recording and features the single 'Coming Up'. I also have developed some respect for the way he backed off from the music industry and made Wings more of a family affair. He knew he didn't have anything else to prove, so why shouldn't he just do what he wants?

Probably the main reason I have elevated 'Mull of Kintyre' to a higher status is because I've discovered another McCartney song that is more worthy of my baffled contempt. 'Wonderful Christmas Time' released by McCartney in 1980 is a woefully pedestrian and uninspired Christmas song that makes 'Mull of Kintyre' sound like a stone-cold classic. I have to admit, however, that after playing 'Wonderful Christmas Time' during the last couple of Ludlow Christmases - I'm starting to warm to it!


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Goodbye My Love

I was reminded of the scene from Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' in which astronaut Dave Bowman was forced to shut down a malfunctioning HAL computer, as I undid the screws from the number plate on my 1971 Holden HG Sedan. With each turn of the screwdriver, part of my car's life and very essence seemed to dissipate before my eyes, in the same way that HAL's malevolent personality did in the film. In the darkness, I tried to remove the final screw by torchlight, when I was suddenly distracted by the tune 'Daisy', which drifted into my consciousness:

"Daisy, Daisy, tell me your answer, do."

I ignored the sudden pang of guilt that struck me and continued turning. The voice seemed slower now.

"I'm - half - cray - zeee."

The tune continued in the background as I noticed that the final screw wasn't coming out. It seemed to have been threaded and was turning on the spot. A final desperate cling to life? A last gasp before the grim hand of death reached out for my beloved? Memories came flooding back of our brief yet torrid time together.

* * * * *

Upon reflection, you were more like a girlfriend that my friends couldn't understand, than HAL the homicidal computer. You were a seventies model and therefore didn't have the same prestige in their eyes. Most of my friends preferred the 1960s EH series. They tolerated our affair, however, because you were a classic Holden and therefore commanded some respect. My mother never liked you. I suspect you didn't fit in to her idea of what she imagined was our family's status in society. My car was from the wrong side of the tracks and therefore our love was never meant to be.

Other less-cultured car enthusiasts were confused by my unwillingness to put mags on you, lower your suspension and generally hot-you-up. They didn't understand. I loved you for what you were, not for what you could become. That is what true love is. Unconditional.

Alas, being a male, there was always going to be something about a woman that I could never understand and I freely admit I wasn't able to give you what you needed. I never read the signs of what was wrong with you until it was too late. Problems escalated from oil leaks and worn-out gaskets to rear axle problems and a near fatal incident involving the ball joint coming off the front-left axle and the car skidding 20 meters on sheer metal. I wasn't to know that little problems would become bigger problems and eventually overwhelm our relationship. Like a typical male I never read the warning signs. 

Was it because I had no experience with cars growing up? 

Was it because I went to a boys-only high school and therefore couldn't
understand the complex female psyche?

We had so much in common. We were both born in the same year. This made me especially protective towards you. Every rust spot, dent, or skip in the motor was an analogy for my own sad decline, in the same way as a wrinkle or a grey hair. When I travelled in the elevator at Waterfront Place (one of the tallest buildings in Brisbane), I marvelled at the number of buttons that filled up the display panel and realised that I'd soon be alive for more years than the building contained floors. It made me wonder about your own dark past and who had owned you before I did. I wasn't jealous, however, just intrigued by your mystery; a puzzle I was never likely to solve.

The only thing about your past of which I was certain, involved your previous owner's promise that you'd be mine if I could rescue you from the ditch you were stuck in at the back of his house. I went to considerable time and expense pulling you out with the aid of a tow truck, before realising that I could have driven you out if I'd only checked to see if there was any petrol in your tank. I spent a considerable amount of money getting you on the road again and nursing you back to health. Being a poor student at the time, the only maintenance I could perform on you in the intervening years was with tools I owned myself - a phillips-head screwdriver and an old Target socket set. You deserved better than I could offer and I knew it. That's why I was ashamed to show you to other mechanics, for fear of the retribution I would receive because of your obvious neglect. The only person I really allowed to work on you was my girlfriend's father, because, hopefully, he would understand that I wasn't some kind of abusive monster, rather, just someone who appreciated your beauty but couldn't understand your complexities.

We were star-crossed lovers and therefore - like the best romances - our story had to end in tragedy. I realised one day that if we both were to survive, then our love had to end. We could no longer give each other what we truly needed. I decided that I had to give you to another. I realised that you might not survive the transition to another owner and that you could possibly end up being used as parts. I tried to comfort myself by considering your demise in the same way as an organ donor might. You'd die so that another may live. I selfishly wished you'd survive because that's the thought which comforted me the most.

* * * * * 

I returned to the job at hand and finally decided to wrench myself away from her clutches before I succumbed to my maudlin thoughts. She had to understand. It's was the best thing for both of us. I couldn't remove the threaded screw so I simply decided to pull the soft metal of the numberplate away. A wave of remorse overwhelmed me as I looked towards her form in the moonlight. I imagined what she must have looked like coming off the production line and the bright future that she believed surely awaited her. It grieved me to see it end, yet in the semi darkness the ravages of time no longer showed. I remember her like this. I drew the tarpaulin over and walked away. Although she may be gone from my life, I hope that somehow she'll realise all the good times we shared will remain with me forever.