Friday, 24 June 2011

Out With The Old | Music | End of the World Blues, or, “We’re some kind of incredible multiplication more successful than the average person”

So dose me up once is not enough 
I can still see the ground
And from this high rise view looking down on you
I'm not the one wasting my time
This is the end of the world news
This is the end of the world news sponsored by God

So sung Tom McRae on a track from his self-titled debut, and the 14 year old me loved the shit out of it. Here was an artist and a song that combined all the things I wanted to do with my own guitar as a pubescent bairn: a simple, but not pathetically simple minor key guitar structure; a set of lyrics almost entirely constructed out of one-line, self-contained abstractions; a voice flecked with sexy, Counting Crows-ish (remember them? HOHOHO) mannerisms that were just English-sounding enough to slip into one’s own choir-trained vocal approach. And so forth. I dug this song so much I remember picking up an acoustic guitar at, potentially, my first ever house party, again aged 14ish, and playing it to a bunch of girls having introduced it as “a song I’ve been working on for ages.” Yeah, I was a little fuck back then.

Needless to say, a couple years later, I had moved on from poor Tom, and could regularly be found sitting at Sandwich Club (those of us who brought packed lunches to school formed a sandwich club. At Christmas, we organised a Secret Sandwich, as opposed to Santa) mouthing off about McRae’s rubbish one-man impersonation of late REM – the worst REM of all the REMs. “Take ‘End of the World News,’ from his self-titled debut,” I’d begin. “The sixth line: ‘to define you the king of the game.’ I’d actually prefer ‘ahead of the game’ to that kind of half-baked, nonsensical attempt to drag a cliché into the realms of originality, like some kind of very, very, very poor man’s Jens Lekman.” Yeah, I was a little fuck back then.

Needless to say, a couple years further on and I’d forgotten McRae had ever existed, his mewing silenced by the bells and whistles of fresher-friendly popgroups like Crystal Castles and Datarock. A state of affairs that remained in place until just over a month ago, when I was sat in my room watching the Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard talking-head bricolages which accompany last month’s set of Bad Seeds re-releases – the Boatman’s Call film specifically. A thoroughly nice-looking man appeared, wearing a jacket and stubble every bit as pathetic as my own (watch this, from 7.45 onwards). Avoiding making eye contact with the camera, he over-emphasised certain nouns in order to draw attention away from his manifest gaucheness – something I’m fully aware I do in artificial situations. “I am the child of two vicars,” he began. “And for me to have somebody who talks about religion in a funny, clever, challenging way – that was a way for me to antagonise my family as well.”

My God, it’s basically me – I mean, I’m a vicar’s son, as opposed to two vicars’ son, but even so. I thought. Along with: I can’t wait to find out who this nice-looking man is, we should probably hang out or something. (The way these Bad Seeds films work is, they don’t caption the interviewees until the very end, so either you don’t know who you’re seeing talk, and therefore judge what they’re saying objectively, or have the opportunity to congratulate yourself on recognising, I don’t know, the bassist from the Veils, a goddam angel who appears on several of these films.)

Readers, it was Tom McRae! I had/have become what I thought I despised. Or rather, I had/have finally recognised what I’d convinced myself I despised for what it was, namely something not unlike myself. (I hope you don’t think this is about me drawing parallels between myself and a chiselled, mega-selling troubadour, it’s honestly not, try to bear with me.)

What a cliché. But here’s my point which is, I’m pleased to admit, very much a case of dragging a cliché into the realms of originality: admitting to myself that I’m probably more like Tom McRae than I’m not like Tom McRae helped me to come to an important conclusion: growing up culturally, musically, literally, coming to the end of one’s immaturity, isn’t about turning into one’s father/mother, like the lazy stories say: it’s about turning into one’s father’s/mother’s son/daughter. (Which, for the sake of readability, I will henceforth refer to as: becoming one’s father’s son. Because I’m a boy, silly.) Growing up is about acknowledging that the musician you’ve contrived antipathy towards because of his unashamed emotive directness is probably the kind of musician you’d have become if you were any good at music-making, and more handsome. Growing up is about recognising that the things you properly value have much more to do with the things that your parents value than you’ve hitherto been willing to admit.

It’s not linear. My father is a vicar, but I’m not especially keen on hymns (except for bona fide pumpers like this). When I really interrogate, say, my love affair with Nick Cave though, documented extensively on these pages, I realise that it’s the way he integrates a profound respect for liturgical poetry, along with an underlying willingness to be touched by a spiritual sublime, into a model of songwriting that is also violent and decadent and culturally enriching and gorgeous and chaotic and dense and sexy – I realise it’s the presence of what my dad does within that, which makes it so important to me. Nick Cave legitimises my somewhat all-over-the-place views on religion to the point that I’ve made peace with the significance of what my dad does in making sense what I do (on the face of things, utterly different. But actually not that different at all, really. I just use fuckwords more).

Anyway, this is all getting a bit heavy, and self-indulgent, so to close in the traditional Silkworms manner, HERE’S A SILLY LIST TO PROVE MY POINT. Vicar’s offspring ancient and modern who turned into their father’s sons as they reached artistic maturity. But first, a quote from (another’s vicar’s son – whose latest record is a classic vicar’s son’s album, all about friends of his father’s who have died and so forth) Mick Harvey, the original and greatest of all the Bad Seeds, on this very subject – taken from an interview I conducted with him on (of all days) Easter Saturday:

We do tend to excel apparently. They do say that, I’ve read an analysis of it, the sons and daughters of Anglican ministers. And it’s quite extraordinary, what they go on to – I can’t remember what the figures are but we’re some kind of incredible multiplication more successful than the average person. I don’t know why.


Son of: The Reverend Thomas Hobbes, vicar of Charlton and Westport
Early life: Many, many accusations of atheism.
Maturity: “Atheism, impiety, and the like are words of the greatest defamation possible.”

 EXAMPLE THE SECOND, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Son of: The Reverend John Coleridge
Early life: The Lyrical Ballads, washed down with a fuckton of laudanum
Maturity: ‘On the Constitution of the Church and State, according to the idea of each’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Son of: Bill Westwood, Bishop of Peterborough
Early life: “You can’t come to the kingdom and not see the prince.” S. Dogg
Maturity: “Honestly, baby, I get love out there, pure and simple.” T. Westwood


Sons of: Ivan Leon Followhill, a United Pentecostal Preacher
Early life: “You’ll plead, you’ll get down on your knees / For just another taste.”
Maturity: Good one.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor

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