Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Jackie Leven – Exit Wound

(This is a follow-up to my first piece on Jackie: The King of Love Has Died.)
‘i will be there beside you with my undiplomatic pain’
Watching ‘Single Father’, I feel tears in the back of my throat. Any song at any time, cheerful or mournful, can suddenly bring home to me that he’s gone; like learning it anew each time. ‘Another Man’s Rain’ has me sobbing for a minute before I pull myself together. I can forget for days at a time, especially if I don’t listen to any Jackie (but what kind of life is that?). When I do, sorrow resurfaces, like touching a bruise that just won't heal, like the scar in ‘Universal Blue’. My heart goes out to those who knew him well and must miss him exponentially more. But what I feel is also untainted by any personal experience of his flaws or failings – I only have the music and the memories of the gigs, always so amazing.

Yesterday, it was ‘God’s Children’ by the Kinks. Today, for some reason, it’s ‘Father and Son’ by Cat Stevens. And so what do I do? Play it again of course.

bittersweet – better late than never?
Somehow the belated recognition of Jackie’s genius seems to make his loss harder to bear, not easier. They didn’t want him when he was alive; he was ours then (I mean, ‘of us’); what do they want with him now? Our Jackie, who could find the romance in ‘burned-out cars’ and make a line like this sound hauntingly beautiful, through the grace of the melody and the tenderness of his vocal. Who could recognise that in the midst of death, we are in life: ‘A flower struggles through the steel’.

Part of me feels he’s merely a bandwagon for these Guardian or BBC dilettantes, hostages to the Zeitgeist, I call them, to jump on until the next thing comes along. You know the type, the people who, two records down the line, ‘discover’ the Fleet Foxes after the publicist has got to them and cut their hair, trimmed their beards, made them more palatable to the masses. Oh and after they’ve won a clutch of awards. Or who adore ‘The Wire’ because it’s so true to life, so real, having never been to Baltimore or anywhere similar, but who nevertheless feel qualified to pass judgement from their town houses in Kensington and Chelsea. (But, even if they had been there, they would have been booked into a four-star hotel in an upmarket neighbourhood, by some flunky at the office, taken cabs everywhere – God forbid that they should be exposed to public transport or to a millimetre of the seedy underbelly of the city.) They need everything validated by a critic in a paper or some style guru before they can like it themselves. Never really sure of their own opinions, they cite other people’s to vindicate their tastes. To quote Ray Davies (well, you know me) singing about the same phenomenon at a different time: ‘Your style, your views/Straight from The London Illustrated News/You speak your mind/Once you have read it in The Times’ (‘Who Do You Think You Are?’). My sister would cite (and has cited) those who suddenly thought Pulp were cool once ‘Common People’ became a hit, at the time when the rest of us believed they had become a parody of themselves, revisiting and rehashing something they’d done much better before. Perhaps they’re the sort who talk about iconic images. An icon is an image, you idiots. Who are always up to date with the latest fashions (what is current in nail design) and can spout designers at your blank face. To them, being hip is the ultimate goal. Yes, I’m selfish. I don’t want them to have him. They’re immune to the realness of Jackie because their lives are so effortfully ersatz. Their albeit fleeting interest devalues him somehow. But I suppose that appreciation is appreciation regardless of how someone got there and I know that there are genuine admirers among the journalists out there who’ve liked him for years and haven’t simply dropped in for one album or one gig, then hitched their horses to the next wagon.

I’m not saying it’s a crime to start liking something late in the day – I’ve just got into the Kinks so I’m pretty far behind the times. But at least I recognise I’m late. Oh, I think you know what I’m saying.

And I don’t really want Jackie to be considered alongside the ranks of those who become posthumously famous because this would put him in the same company as Eva Cassidy, whose anodyne, passionless versions of beautiful songs leave me cold, and Jeff Buckley, talented I’m sure but rather a one-trick pony. Jackie deserves a more discerning audience.

two tiny selves sleep (doll by doll)
Having been introduced to them early, I realise it is possible that I viewed (and heard) all music through the prism of Doll by Doll: ‘Eternal’, depthless ‘Grand Passion’, absolute extremes, that elemental quality that reaches into my very marrow: ‘That’s something my soul understands’ (‘Hey Sweetheart’). And maybe it ruined life for me by raising my expectations. But musically, how was I to fall prey to the retrogressive, rock-by-numbers of the Fearne Cotton age where everything is ‘amazing’ no matter how dated or derivative – from the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays via Oasis to the Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, the Kaiser Chiefs and the pomp and circumstance of Coldplay? How could I marvel at Ellie Goulding’s ‘voice’ when I didn’t hear a voice but an affected, watered-down whine, transforming a perfect pop song into a dreary dirge? But true talent transcends time, place, race, all those demographics. In ten years’ time, we’ll still be listening to Jackie but, hopefully, no one will remember Ellie Goulding. I say Ellie Goulding but it could just as easily be Lily Allen, Kate Nash, James Morrison, James Blunt and so forth. I’m not saying that collectively they have no talent, only that collectively they couldn’t hold a candle to Jackie.

‘marble city bar’
Listen to the extraordinarily powerful live version with the long introduction in which Jackie builds our anticipation by punctuating the story in which he recognises his own arrogance with the beautiful thrashing of his guitar and singing ‘Kilkenny, Kilkenny, Kilkenny’ each time he mentions the place as if it were an instruction to the audience: ‘Kill Kenny!’ Sublime crescendo. Such vehemence. Unforgettable. He could make believers of us all.

'midwinter in a minor key’
Listening to One Long Cold Morning, I can't help but feel that these songs were written, if not post-diagnosis, at least with the presentiment that all was not well. There’s a sense of assessment, acceptance, an ineffable sadness and an air of inevitable adieu, although this is all leavened with humour as ever.

music in ‘the word’
Pleased with the free CD. Although I would have chosen completely different songs to represent Jackie, the Twitter response shows that these will work just as well. It’s simply a testament to the breadth and quality of his output. Previously, I only had ‘Poortoun’ and ‘Another Man’s Rain’ live and, while I’ve been the first to champion Jackie’s peerless live performances, the studio versions, particularly of the former, do allow for nuances and delicacy that don’t always fully translate live. ‘Universal Blue’, on the other hand, sounds almost cheerful as if Jackie’s reached a point of philosophical resignation, a world away from the particularly trenchant rendition I’m used to on Deep in the Heart of Nowhere, in which each word is bitten off with venom: bleak, raw and uncompromising and as a result, heart-rending (or heart-rendering as a friend puts it – perhaps we should all have our hearts rendered in the first instance as it means ‘to apply a coat of plaster or cement directly to’; it would make these exit wounds easier to bear). Some songs, which are essentially the same as on a previous release, like ‘Men in Prison’, have a different (and in this instance, more poignant) resonance in this new context (of the CD and of its occasion). The sauntering swing of ‘Night Lilies’ matches the bad boy Jackie of old – ‘I live among lost men with winding down lives/I sleep on their sofas and feel up their wives’. Typically, Jackie manages to be clever, irreverent, honest, funny and profound.

I would have definitely included one of the following three tracks though: ‘Shadow in My Eye’, for its stripped-back simplicity and drama or the epic saga of ‘Call Mother a Lonely Field’, with Jackie’s voice omnipotent, the guitar answering the fourth line of the verse, like sunlight glittering on water. Jackie was an alchemist with the guitar. He could turn all to gold. [In a previous blog, I said he was a one-man choir but, with a guitar, he was a one-man orchestra. On these tracks, there are other instruments and backing vocals – the sound is full but, solo live, it would seem as if there were phantom musicians on the stage, playing alongside him; difficult to believe that he alone could create such a variety of sound.] Or ‘The Garden’, the reward of the sweeping chorus held off till the end, keeps a promise made by the verse; like wrestling through a dark tangle of briars to discover the perfect rose, or driving through the night and hearing Grieg’s ‘Morning’ from Peer Gynt at a resplendent dawn, the sad resignation of the words mitigated by the stirring melody, the message a reminder to us all.

We only ever get one rose in our overgrown garden and this is it.

words in ‘the word’
Informative and sensitive, Paul Du Noyer is obviously a longterm Jackie aficionado. I never knew Jackie’s real name was Alan Moffatt. Doesn’t have quite the same ring.

I was surprised by what Deborah had to say about fans (as if we were an amorphous mass proliferating discontent): ‘There was this view from fans that they almost wanted to see him suffering. They wanted to see him get wildly drunk … because that was their image of who they wanted.’ I don't think any fan of Jackie’s would want him to suffer in any way, for any reason. Jackie didn’t seem the sort to believe all that ‘I must suffer for my art’ baloney. I don't think he had to go in search of trouble, conflict or drama to write about. As Deborah says herself, he could probably create something magical and insightful on his failure to mend a fence. Anything could be grist for the mill of his imagination. It’s possible I suppose that people who knew him well might have encouraged or colluded in over-indulgence but with no intent to harm I’m sure.

‘fairytales for hardmen’
If you hadn’t heard any Jackie and simply read all the tributes, you might be left with the impression that he was a dour character, hard-living, hard-drinking (well that part may be true) with a troubled past, whose focus was on loss, pain and loneliness, that all this doom-laden introspection would lead you to depression and despair when exactly the opposite is the case. Jackie’s music isn’t like a Ken Loach movie, all gritty realism and futility (although these aren’t absent); it’s incredibly uplifting and joyful. Jackie has faced his demons, recognised and/or conquered them, with humour and grace. There’s wisdom, understanding, acceptance, even triumph. The music leads us into the light. I have to be grateful that we got as much of Jackie as we did, that he was so creative, so prolific, that he shared his heart and soul through his music and so allowed us all a glimpse of glory.

Planning on joining the Botley motley crew for the get-together in Easter to celebrate and remember Jackie with like minds. This’ll be my first time. I’m sure there are people who can't conceive of going when they’re used to Jackie being there with them but I’m hoping it will help to share experiences, memories and emotions, walk, talk and explore.

some solace from Swinburne
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no man lives forever,
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Other Leven blogs can be found at The King of Love Has Died, I Never Saw the Movie,  Jackie Leven and Adventures in Levenland.


  1. My Dear---This was such a lovely post. Clearly, you are still feeling the loss of this fine man. I am touched by so much of what you have written, that to respond in my comparatively awkward and ineffectual way would be a near-affront to your refined sensibilities. Thank you so very much for having taken the time to respond to my comment elsewhere and to have written so simply, and so profoundly: "Don’t get dispirited." I shall take that not only as my mantra but as a direct command from someone obviously much wiser than myself. With Gratitude, Mavarla

  2. Hi Mavarla,
    Your expression is anything but awkward and ineffectual; you’re extremely articulate and it’s a pleasure to correspond with you. Had a great birthday celebration: walking, talking and pots of tea with friends from school and work. I live a completely illogical life and I wish I were wise in any way but am not at all, I assure you. All my good wishes as ever, Ss etc.

  3. My Dear, Lady Sshh,

    Your Easter Weekend 2012 sounded *so idyllic*: Nature---beauty, in sight and sound…*Jackie Leven* (present in music, and, *true spirit*, as well, no doubt) and talented peers, and fans, paying him tribute: How lovely. I truly *wish* I could've been there.

    Yes, in re Germans: Their loyalty is sincere; their seriousness as doggedly determined as a heart attack; their fact-checking unimpeachable---which reminds me of a particularly, amusing, Teut paragraph I popped into an online language translator in 2009 from a Deutsche R.D. interview (although, I *could've* understood 85% of it [as I had to learn to speak "the awful German language," as Mark Twain SO aptly put it, when I lived there] however, this translator return was worth its weight in comic relief gold):

    "I am considered as the moved Kraut, which barricades itself in its studio. Yesterday, I was in Ireland, there wanted to me many on the road simply the hand to vibrate." ~ Ray Davies.

    Hmmm---battery-operated, and hopefully, rechargeable. However, I say, go green! Hand-crank is best. Yes: I knew that’d all get a *wee* chuckle out of you.

  4. In re D.D.: His "sweetheartery" (or lack thereof) has never been an issue w/me; the *obverse result* of this---his happy-go-lucky, "'Eternal Now' kid-in-a-candy-store-24/7" purview (w/requisite lack of ANY sense of adult MAN responsibility) *is the issue*; glad he "seems" to be getting along w/others, nowadays (hopefully, w/R.D., and his [D.D.’s] *oldest son* who has lived a bewildered, forgotten existence in The Netherlands all these decades...you know, Miss Sshh---the one, now, in his late 40s, purportedly "a dead ringer" [poor dear] for the hoary, old bastard, and of whom the latter so callously dismissed in KINK insofar as "how much a quid" can get a person in [paternity] lawsuits; this is *why* Dave Davies grosses me out so; his "love" for *all* of his children, family, women, friends, and fans, is so *conditional* as in "If you don’t accept that I am *truly*, a spiritually-SUPREME Being, then F--K OFF and *make room for the obedient arse-kissers*, uh, I *mean* the INNOCENT BELIEVERS!" If I should ever include The Deville as a character in a piece of fiction using an actual person upon whom to model he in *every* way, who *else* but "Dave The Rave" ["rave" = "junior raven"] should be the paper doll mannekijn thus? I shall take care to nab a few scenes from "Häxan" [1922; Scandia silent horror film; epic. English title: "The Witches" or "Witchcraft Through The Ages"]. One scene---absolûment---must be shamelessly lifted: The scene where all of the old goat's fawning, Witchiepoo weirdettes line up behind their standing, nekkid Master to one-by-one kneel and kiss his arse [literally] as he gleefully smiles and giggles: Because it tickled? Maybe...but MORE *likely*, 'cause he'd just *farted* into the nares of each of these rosey-knee'd little witch's smellers...but hey, they prolly, totally *DUG IT* and inhaled the "sweet, sacred fragrance" w/all of their nasal-esophageal might, that it should *ever-remain* in their hideously, stinky and turgid, lungs o’ dung).

  5. *Thank you* for your "first language" comment, Dear Girl: My mother taught me to write in The Queen’s English (as she [Mom], herself, was taught to do in Japan during the 1930s), so I tend to vacillate between this and the American spellings I learnt in school; my apologies.

    *Everyone* should endeavour to write this language to the *best of his/her ability* (especially, in Cyberspace, for crying out loud!) for it's truly, *the best* (most descriptive, most colorful, and most phonetically-lyrical [= "phono-semantical"] language in the world circa 2012 because it is *infused* with the words of every, other foreign culture which has *adopted it* (a direct result of the dissemination of Western/American Pop-Culture vis-à-vis every, danged, piece of electrical techno-marvel device since radio, but, beginning with transatlantic cable in the mid-1800s, thus, *all the world* has adopted THE QUEEN'S ENGLISH (w/liberal smatterings of wacky U.S. and culture-specific slang = "phonemes") to morph it all into the *ultimate, lingua franca, or rather "mundus lingus" to-date*.

    English is the actual Esperanto.

    Have a swarmin', warmin' "Happy Thursday" of totally, rad-o-licious adventures offline, my creative and inquisitive, and *most gracious*, Cyberian Scribette Freundin.

    Most respectfully, your irreverent pal in Cal...I remain,

    The OH-SO Humble, Miss Savvy Mavy

    P.S. Mucho "Dos Equis" backatcha!

  6. No time to reply right now but will write when I get back and send my email address so that we can correspond in private too. There were definitely things in 'Kink' which made me wonder about the sensitive man I'd met.

  7. Hi, Sshh---please, *take your time*! Am in no hurry on this end and please do enjoy your road trip. My private E-mail address is on my website (link is in "Profile" here). In re D.D., though: Nothing has been said which he, himself, hasn't *already* told the whole wide world about in his own book or in interviews.

    "There are no dress rehearsals in life...." as the late, great Bette Davis, said.

    I look forward to communicating with you, privately, when time permits.