PH70 Day 70: A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers

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All things are apart. All things are a part.” We’re all lighthouse keepers, we stand alone and shed a light on what happens around us. We choose where to look and where to intervene, if we can at all. We’re all connected by our observation powers, we’re all apart because of the indiviual choice we make. We’re a plague because we are ubiquitous and everything happening around us plagues us.

It’s THE ULTIMATE METAPHOR.

And even though I didn’t get all of it in 1980, I got the importance. It took me years to listen again and again, the song plagued my ears as well. It made Pawn Hears my favorite album until now, it still is, #1 on my Album top 100 list. And who knows, it might keep its #1 spot in the next edition of the Album top 100 next year. If you follow me, you’ll know on Christmas Eve 2019, when I reveal the new #1 spot.

A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (click on pic) was also the #1 on my Song top 100 list in 2006, runner-up in 2016 and 3rd in 2011. The new edition of that list is in 2021, in which year I will reveal the #1 on my 60th birthday, 21 December (21-12-21).

Now let us listen briefly to Peter Hammill’s own explanation of this song:

It’s just the story of the lighthouse keeper, that’s it on its basic level. And there’s the narrative about his guilt and his complexes about seeing people die and letting people die, and not being able to help. In the end – well, it doesn’t really have an end, it’s really up to you to decide. He either kills himself, or he rationalises it all and can live in peace… Then on the psychic/religious level it’s about him coming to terms with himself, and at the end there is either him losing it all completely to insanity, or transcendence; it’s either way at the end… And then it’s also about the individual coming to terms with society – that’s the third level...”

There is so much more, just a sample:

“I don’t want to hate
I just want to grow
Why can’t I let me
Live and be free? But I
Die very slowly alone

I know no more ways
I am so afraid
Myself won’t let me
Just be myself and so
I am completely alone”

“Myself won’t let me just be myself” is not just human beings coping with society but also with humanity itself. Social shaping, copying behaviour, the whole constraints of socialisation, it can take its toll. Compare this with the “no sham or fake” message of yesterday’s “Black Room” and you’ll understand why this was an issue of the young Peter Hammill (and of me, it still is).

This song is so multi-layered, both musically (it was recorded in intervals over a long period of times), lyrically and philosophically, that it will no doubt continue to fascinate me for the rest of my life. This goes for large parts of PH’s work.

And I was extremely lucky to witness PH play it live in a solo performance in 1981.

A long, healthy and prosperous life! Cento anni!

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PH70 Day 69: (In the) Black Room/The Tower

black room
The road has (all but one) come full circle: we’re back at my room on the 4th floor of a 19th century apartment building in the Amsterdam East End, looking out on roofs, chimneys, antennae in a northeasternly direction. I’m 18 years old and don’t have a clue how to connect to my fellow students, so I spend most of the autumn of 1980 in my room, trying to figure out life.

The Black Room (morning sun didn’t shine in until late April of the next year) for most of my freshman year.

The essence:

I’m simply trying not to sham or fake“. PH has expressed this time and again and it has been a guideline of mine since the age of 14. This doesn’t always make friends, but it keeps the dignity alive.

“Use vision as sense and not as crutch!
It doesn’t matter all that much;
Whatever happens we’ll all survive
I’m only trying not to pawn my life”

Powerful poetry. So many people around me did use (political) vision as sense, it gave their lives meaning without understand the meaning. I was on hybrid visions and again, I didn’t really fit in anywhere. I started two political careers in those days, but I was too critical to become part of the party establishment.

I knew: life goes on, we’ll all survive, we don’t need to be a sellout. I do know that is tough, but it seems like the only way. Nevertheless, the tower, the core of our personality, will be shaken to the foundations:

“Pain shall come
And change shall run
Down through my heart
And shake my knees
And now it is coming
All around is the humming
Of the World”

All the changes I have had to go through to keep the tower erect have scarred me inside. Somehow the tower still stands, not by any standards as proud and fierce as Peter Hammil’s, but strong enough for my understanding. But I guess this was the parallel that convinced me that listening to PH’s music was beneficial, necessary and profoundly pleasant.

Future forms, space/time storms:
They’re all me
And I’ve only got to choose!

PH chose the form of an incredible singer/songwriter, I chose many different forms and hope to embark on another storm very soon. Another world, another profession. They’re all me!

One day left in this countdown. Tomorrow is PH70 – with the most spectacular proof of mastery of them all, lyrics and music.

 

PH70 Day 67: Childlike Faith in Childhood’s End

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“Somehow there must be more” – the counterpart to “Still Life” on the same album. This is one of the most intricate lyrics of them all. The hours I spent trying to decypher them… What I came up with is that PH moves back and forth between the individual perspective (“but I think that I can bear it if the next life is the best“) and that of the human race (“an though I see no God to save us, yet we survive“), the latter being connected directly to Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “Childhood’s End” – which I read several years before listening to this song for the first time.

In the novel, the children of the human race evolve into a totally different species, which leads to the end of humanity as a whole as Earth is destroyed. Reincarnation is the opposite process, in which a person basically never dies.

This is a strong reference to the novel:

Colour blisters, image splinters gravitate
Towards the centre, in final splendour disintegrate
The universe now beckons
And Man, too, must take His place;
Just a few last fleeting seconds
To wander in the waste

The strongest reference to reincarnation as an eternal process:

“We might not be there to share it
If eternity’s a jest but I think that I can bear it
If the next life is the best
Even if there is a heaven when we die
Endless bliss would be as meaningless as the lie
That always comes as answer to the question
“Why do we see through the eyes of creation?”

The final verse could be the conclusion of both:

In the death of mere humans life shall start

I can listen to this song (click on pic) for hours and sometimes figure it all out, sometimes getting lost in the forsest of meaning.

The “Childlike Faith” is another clue: it could be the children of the Earth mutating into creatures with alien capacities (like in the novel), or it could be the total naivety of the belief in reincarnation (which was very popular in the mid-seventies of the 20th century).

Clueless in Childhood’s End: that’s what I shall remain for the rest of my conscious life, I suppose. Perhaps I’ll figure it out in the next one…

And regarding the music: this is almost like the perfect merger of all beauties. But before this countdown is over, there will be one step beyond.

PH70 Day 66: After the Flood

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The main difference between a musically equally exciting band of the time, namely the early Genesis, is that VdGG doesn’t do happy ends. Whereas their magnum opus “Supper’s Ready” even survives the Apocalypse, “After the Flood” (click on pic) merely goes “All is dead and nobody lives“.

The second coming of the flood will not leave a soul alive, no Noah’s Ark, no second coming of the Messiah, no last minute action hero.

The waters wil rise, engulf us and cause the end of humanity. Einstein had warned us:

“Every step appears to be
The unavoidable consequence of the preceding one
And in the end there beckons more and more clearly
Total annihilation.”

Today, nearly 50 years after this song was recorded, global warming seems to be able to turn the ice into water without a nuclear blast. A visionary song. After playing it, I usually want to get out and do something about it. So I should play it more often!

 

PH70 Day 65: Shingle Song

shingle song

After the pain of “Lost”, what comes next? “Shingle Song” (click on pic) is not a howl but a lament. “I look to my side and you’re not there”. Orfeus and Euridice, Romeo and Juliet, me and not just one other person.

“Shingle Song” is treacherous, because it is enveloped in such a beautiful melody, but the grief trickles down from every crack. A bit like “Moon over Bourbon St.” is actually sung by a vampire.

DJ’s sax does the work here, of course, and sets off the flow of tears. “I can’t get you out of my life”, PH sings, whilst walking on a shingle beach. The pebbles hurt his feet, so does the heart.

I just returned from a shingle beach in Greece. Fortunately that shingle song was filled with joy…

PH70 Day 64: Lost

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“My mind began to howl” – this song is the archetype of heartbreaks, the universal standard. Never has this sort of pain been described, cut and boned in a more adequate way. Oh how many times I have played it with tears in my eyes!

Usually I am lost for words too. How to comment a song so self-explaining? It is #40 in my 2016 top 100. The comments there also being scarce.

So let’s all drown in a sea of tears:

“I know I’ve never cried as I’m about to

If I could just frame the words
That would make your fire burn
All this water that’s now around me could be the love
That should surround me

Looking out through the tears that blind me
My heart bleeds that you may find me
Or at least that I can
Forget and be numb
But I, I just can’t stop because the words still come
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you”

Interestingly I used to have a pressing of “H to He” without the piano/sax finale. So the song ended with the words “I love you” fading away in minor chords. For many years I believed that to be the better ending, but the perturbed battle of emotions which I discovered to be the real ending is actually quite appropriate, having been through them quite a number of times.

PH70 Day 63: The Sleepwalkers

the sleepwalkers

It gets darker. And better. Music-wise, that is. The dancing of the Dead, the final question of the finality of life, seen from the perspective of a person already dreaming to cross the line to yonder.

This is a key verse:

“Tonight, before you lay down to the sweetness of your sleep
Do you question your surrender to the drop from Lover’s Leap”

The protagonist is considering joining the “mindless army”. Describing the powerful advance of the zombies, there must be some admiration. Perhaps even longing for this power, which rules the night. The fascination is obvious in:

“But breathing, living, knowing in some measure at least
The soul which roots the matter of both Beauty and the Beast
From what tooth or claw does murder spring
From what flesh and blood does passion?”

Yet another reference to Freud’s concepts of Eros (life instinct) and Thanatos (death instinct), which are clearly present in PH’s early work. And, as a matter of fact, were fascinating me at the age I came to know PH/VdGG. Another perfect match.

“The Sleepwalkers” (click on pic for a roaring live version) drags you along, you can’t say no, you have to join the “columns of the night”. But in the end, when the sax dies down, it is all known and not known:

“The army of sleepwalkers shake their limbs and are loose
And though I am a talker, I can phrase no excuse
Not to rise again
In the chorus of the night-time I belong
And I, like you, must dance to that moonlight song
And in the end I, too, must pay the cost of this life
If all is lost none is known
And how could we lose what we’ve never owned?
Oh, I’d search out every knowledge that I could find
Unravel all the mysteries of mind
If I only had time
If I only had time
But soon my time is ended”

No excuse not to rise again: so life will prevail. But life is not something we own, so it is not lost when it is lost. The paradoxes are too complex to solve. A human being has no time to unravel them. Have we?

PH70 Day 62: An Imagined Brother

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This is a tough one for me. I do have a brother, but since about 6 years he only exists in my imagination. I believe I know more or less where he lives, but I have no way of contacting him. And it’s almost 1,000 miles from where I live.

“An Imagined Brother” (click on pic) obviously is very personal to me and every time I listen to it, I try to understand what happened. Some of it I do, the rest is speculation. The song is wonderfully mysterious, giving me anchor points but letting me plot the road between them. Nothing straight. Rather ‘strayed’.

PH70 Day 61: Patient

patient

It gets dark and very existentialist. “There isn’t any answer”, and “The loaded dice of chance are there”. And still we hope for some kind of solution, cure, treatment, we’re “waiting for the doctor to come”. In vain.

What better way to describe the ‘condition humaine’ than in these verses.

“You put your faith in others;
The fear could not be worse
But Nature’s not your mother now
Just your suckling nurse
There isn’t any doctor
There isn’t any cure…
That might come as a shock to you
But can you really be so sure?
Can you really be so sure?”

The final verses add to the mystery, as does the Spanish guitar emerging from beneath its whipping electric cousin. The last bars are really soothing, so what is this: not sure of no cure = sure or a cure? The obvious double negative cleverly used by a physics man? Or is the finale of the song another sarcastic cliffhanger? A film noir we won’t ever understand, like Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Oddyssey” (saw that the other day in 70 mm, amazing but confusing)?

This is one of the songs that really kill it.