A human life might be divided into chronological time: increments, minutes, hours, days and weeks, as well as seasons and years. This week culminated in the longest day, or Summer Solstice, which I was lucky enough to celebrate with some Swedish friends who really know how to do it (floral headdresses, schnapps, wonderful Swedish food, traditional singing, dancing etc.)
But today also feels like the end of a rich but quite difficult week, when the workload at the end of the academic year sometimes seemed almost physically and mentally impossible. But somehow you just dig through it, one hour at a time, one day at a time.
Fortunately, because I am lucky enough to work as an arts lecturer, even in the most demanding of times I am constantly in the company of art students – some of the most wonderful people in the world – and also in the company of art and ideas, which I love and, in a way, live for.
On one relaxing evening this week I went to the cinema and saw a movie called ‘Sunset‘ directed by László Nemes. I felt, from the outset that it was some kind of masterpiece and unlike any film I’d ever seen, so I have to recommend it (and would like to see it again).
Even so, I eventually concluded it might be a flawed masterpiece, i.e. visually, technically, conceptually and creatively stunning, but perhaps still lacking in that additional narrative element or arc that might have fulfilled me by taking my emotions on the kind of journey I like cinema to provide as well as innovative cinematography, detailed and convincing historical reconstructions etc.
As a further way of helping me to get through a particularly tough week, I managed to pursue my increasing fascination with the history of popular songs and songwriting. I focused this week on The Kinks, a group whom I felt I liked but knew only a little about.
It proved to be a rich experience, as I discovered many songs that I didn’t know were written by The Kinks but which had become hits for other artists (‘Stop Your Sobbing’, ‘Thank You For The Days’, ‘I Go To Sleep’ … etc).
Plus, I got to better understand the special contributions The Kinks had made, through from their seminal, rocky, two-chord riffs and shuffles (‘You Really Got Me Going’, ‘All Day and All of The Night’ etc.) through many very inventive, sardonic and lyrical takes on modern society (‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Lola’, ‘Dandy’, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, ‘Mr Pleasant etc.)’ plus many simply wonderful and moving and original songs like ‘Waterloo Sunset’ – one of their most famous (and a song I think of at least once a week, every time I cross Waterloo Bridge).
Studying The Kinks’ catalogue (after recently studying those of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, the Beatles, The Beach Boys, Elvis Costello etc. etc.) makes me feel, more than ever, that pop songs (which I also write) and essays (which I also write) and lectures (which I also write) are not really so different, and that we just might be able to start exchanging one for the other.
I think I’ll illustrate this week’s post with a link to The Kinks singing ‘Tired of Waiting’, especially so that I can ask you, the reader, to notice and enjoy how sweetly the singer sings the words “It’s Your Life And You Can Do What You Want” (in a repeated ‘middle-eight’ section).
The sentiment of these softly serious words emerges within the song like an innovative island, momentarily transforming the pervasive skiffly / jangly tone. Here (hear!) the young singer’s vocal chords shape a message to his entire generation. But this message can, like all ‘classics’, also resonate today, in other times and in other (open) hearts.