Archive for March, 2004

In Praise of Coffee

indian coffee house, trivandrumWhile doing some work, I came across another coffee aficionado, Sergio Villarreal who writes “Black coffee should be strong. bitter and threaten your tongue with permanent damage. It should fume and when you get close to it, inspire respect. Throwing it on your lap should spell doom and second degree burns at the very least.”

I agree totally – and will go even further, to say that coffee with milk is evil – and putting sugar in coffee should be punishable by death.

The best coffee I ever tasted was a wonderful relief after couple of months in mountainous North India, where the only hot drink you could get was an abomination called "chai". (This revolting concoction was made with cold water, tea leaves, sugar and condensed milk mixed together and then boiled, with a pinch of cardomam added. Disgusting.) But in the South of India there was a chain called "Indian Coffee House" where you could get a cup of strong, black, bitter coffee for 2 rupees (a 4 pence). Here’s a (bad) photo of the Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum – a cool spiral building where we’d eat our breakfast every morning. I also liked the Coffee House in Calcutta University where my brother and I would lurk in the vain hope of getting together with engali student girls. The triumph of hope over experience, enhanced with a caffeine rush.

The Three People I Don’t Like

A reader wrote to ask about the only three people I don’t like that I mention in the list of unfascinating facts about me.

Now I don’t mean that I’ve loved everyone I’ve ever met, and want to garland them with homemade daisy-chains while hugging them and crooning "Imagine", but generally the people I meet are flawed but decent – as I hope I am. Here’s the three people whom I genuinely felt were a waste of oxygen, having no redeeming qualities at all:

  • A guy who went out with an ex-girlfriend of mine, and beat her up regularly. This guy’s answer to anything was violence; look at him wrong – punch. Remain friendly with your ex – punch. He was nicknamed "Captain Caveman" because of his retarded evolution. Staggeringly, women loved him. Sylvia Plath, anyone?
  • A woman I worked with in Thailand, who lied about everything, no matter how trivial. Her boyfriend told me that, a couple of years before, she’d told him that her brother had died of cancer and took him to see the grave. Afterwards, he discovered there had never been a brother – the surname on the grave was co-incidental. She’d lie about things she was bound to be discovered on; why? Desire to be centre of attention? Just plain deceitful? Schizophrenically oblivious to the difference between fact and fiction? I’d be fascinated to know, as long as I never had to meet the woman again.
  • A guy who worked at an infant’s school in Bangkok who suddenly died of "pneumonia", which is Thai code for AIDs. I felt really bad about it – even thought I’d only met him twice. Then, one of his ex-colleagues told me that, after having been diagnosed, the guy would weekend in Pattaya (a famous bargirl beach resort near Bangkok) and pay unsuspecting bargirls extra for unprotected anal sex. He’d come back to Bangkok and tell his disgusted colleagues "Got another two of the bitches this weekend". No-one from the school attended the funeral.

Let’s hope this list doesn’t get added to in my next 37 years.

Song: “The Woman Who Weeps”

The tune was written 5 years before the lyrics came together, the title stolen and song inspired by TS Eliot’s La Figlia che Piange. Alison Eglinton sings vocals, I play guitar. It was done in 1 take, except the final 5 bars (which we got wrong), then 1 take for the guitar overdubs.

The woman who weeps has borrowed my life tonight.
I’m failing to keep myself to myself from you.
I watch as you sleep; you breathe untroubled, rhythmically,
and I do not wake you to ask you to hold me.

This woman who weeps could love you if you’d return it,
But feels it weak to lower defences.
this woman could teach you so much if you’d like to learn it.
I wonder why we live such pretences?

The woman who weeps has kicked up the autumn leaves.
This woman you see has seen very few summers through;
this woman who weeps can’t be what she wants to be.
I weep for me. I don’t weep for you.

Words and Music ©Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved.

Song: “From Ocean To Sky”

From Ocean To Sky” was written when I’d been reading a lot on Pythagoras’ discoveries of the mathematics of music and the mathematical foundations of Da Vinci’s paintings. I’ve always wished I could draw or paint. The long outro didn’t work as I’d hoped; the first take had some screaming feedback guitar for the last 45 seconds which the engineer’s son accidentally taped over when he was pissed. Ah well. Vox are Bruce and Alison, quad-tracked harmonies so there’s never a breathing space in the vocal lines; violin by Naomi Cooper. Guitars and keyboards by Bruce.

When we were singing songs
you said, “All music is proportion – rules and numbers.
the words are unimportant, and each one
has the feeling of autumn with its dying fall.
A melancholy sweetness; rules and numbers.

Falling down, I know that everything I see is falling down.
Towers, homes and all your lies are falling down,
to be built up again, twice as beautiful when
they stand, and then they crumble. Falling down.”

Everything to me sometimes seems so real I wish that I could paint you what I see;
shapes and shades and shadows to show you
perfect symmetry.
And in the centre, there’s me, neatly caught between points A and B;
in mathemagical proportions. Rules and numbers.

Words and music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved.

Stiff Little Fingers!

When I was 13, my mates and I would go to my house at school lunchtime and listen to punk records that one of the lads had "borrowed" from his older brother. The most exciting of all the punk records was Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers.

By 1979, the Clash were wising me up to leftish politics but their music was pretty cerebral; the Sex Pistols had turned into post-Rotten vaudeville – but SLF were the real deal – 4 guys from Belfast singing anti-IRA songs were almost certainly risking danger and singing about what they really believe. I was hooked and bought all their albums, but never saw them live – until last night.

The venue was just as a punk gig should be; no seating, walls painted black, the whole place smelling of sweat, beer and cigarettes. It was reassuringly full of 40 year olds (I was worried there might be teenie punks with Green Day T-shirts and skateboards) and the band looked greyish haired and chunky-stomached, much like me.

But fucking hell, could they play! Suspect Device and Alternative Ulster had all the energy that I remembered (even though the band must’ve played them every night for two and a half decades). They sang the songs that helped form my social views: Fly The Flag and Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae on social justice, Doesn’t Make It All Right on racism, Bits of Kids on social deprivation, and one of my favourites Is That What You Fought The War For? that my band covered (to loud booing) on the eve of the first gulf war. There was a spine-tingling version of a song about how Americans helped bankroll terrorism in Ireland (before they realised that terrorism was, you know, a bit unpleasant after it happened to them):

EACH DOLLAR A BULLET
Jake Burns

Oh it must seem so romantic
When the fighting’s over there
And they’re passing round the shamrock
And you’re all filled up with tears
"For the love of dear old Ireland"
That you’ve never even seen
You throw in twenty dollars
And sing "Wearing of the Green"

(Chorus:)
Each dollar a bullet
Each victim someone’s son
And Americans kill Irishmen
As surely as if they fired the gun

I wished they’d played Hits and Misses, but they didn’t. To make up for it, the encore, to my great delight, was a cover of Bob Marley’s Johnny Was. I drank Guinness, smoked roll-ups, jumped up and down, sang along and wondered why I’d waited 23 years to see this excellent band play. They were energetic, entertaining and their lyrics should be compulsory reading in schools.

OK, so they don’t have a thought-out political agenda – these people are musicians, not philosophers, but the great rage against injustice in the lyrics speaks just as much to me now as it did in 1979. If you’re a Green Day/ Blink 182 fan, ask your mum to buy you a ticket for an SLF gig near you to see the real spirit of protest and punk rock, from men old enough to be your grandfather and still angry. As the Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote, why should not old men be mad?

"Holy" Matrimony?

Now that George Dubya and his fundamentalist cronies want to amend the U.S. constitution to outlaw gay marriage and enshrine biblically-defined marriage as law, let’s assume that he’s going to legislate for the following biblical passages:

  • Marriage is the union between a man and one or more women – Gen 29:17 -28, 2Sam 3:2-5
  • Marriage still allows a man to have concubines – 2Sam 5:13, 1Kings 11:3, 2Chron 11:21
  • A marriage is only valid if the wife is a virgin. Otherwise, she must be executed. – Deut 22:13 – 21
  • If a married man dies without children, his brother must marry the widow. If he refuses, he must be killed or pay a forfeit of one shoe – Gen 38:6-10, Deut 25:5-10

My point? The the fundamentalist christians/ jews/ moslems / hindus/ wiccans have a right to believe whatever they want. But attempts to codify ancient legends into law seem invariably to create idyllic theocracies like Inquisition Spain, Savonarola’s Florence and modern-day Iran and Saudi Arabia. If you must believe in a God that is capable of creating the whole universe but yet is obsessed with what consenting adults do with their genitals, please do it privately: I don’t want my kids to think that kind of thing is normal or healthy.