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Archive for August 31st, 2010

Maybe it’s because one of the first bands I really loved as a teenager in the late 1980s was REM, whose frontman Michael Stipe spent most of the ’80s singing in a barely comprehensible murmur, but I’ve never had a problem with listening to music whose lyrics I couldn’t understand.

The usually jolly Wir Sind Helden, meine Lieblingsgruppe, in somber mode for their new album

Yes, song lyrics have been hugely important to me over the last 20 years or so, but I don’t think you need to understand what someone’s singing about to appreciate music (otherwise most English-speakers wouldn’t get much out of opera). So I’ve always liked non-English-language pop music. Despite never having learned French (I did German and Latin at school and then German at university) and not really understanding very much of it at all, I’ve long been a big fan of old-school French stuff, worshiping at the altars of Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy and Jacques Dutronc. In fact, once upon a time I loved it so much that my friend Claire and I ran  a one-off club night called Bon Bon devoted to French pop of all kinds, with a bit of Northern Soul, Tropicalia and random ridiculous fun stuff thrown in. And yes, I played this song. I love you, Jacques!

Of course, we can’t forget Jacques’s one-time ladyfriend Francoise Hardy, who, along with ’60s-era Marianne Faithfull and Mary and Rhoda from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, was my fashion idol for most of college. I adored her music and thought she was the coolest woman ever. Behold:

I discovered Francoise Hardy thanks to my dad’s vinyl copy of Francoise Hardy Sings In English, which is an awesome album, even though it was responsible for an extremely embarrassing few minutes back when I was 20. Having snogged one of my best friends, I was trying very hard to get things back to normal and so invited him over to my house. Things were going pretty well and I was thinking “Okay, our friendship isn’t ruined after all! We’ll just pretend it never happened!” I had put the Francoise album on but had forgotten about one particular song until it came on during a brief pause in our conversation. Just imagine these words ringing out as two people try very hard to think of something innocuous to say:

I was going to say that this wouldn’t have happened if I’d played the French version, but actually he was doing French in college so it probably would.

Anyway! As well as my love of all things French (I strongly recommend tracking down all the albums in the Ultra Chicks series, compilations of the finest yé-yé girls from Paris), over the years I’ve loved everything from Japanese pop to the delights of the awesome Komeda, who recorded their first album in Swedish before moving on to English. But I know that lots of Anglophone folk don’t want to listen to pop music that isn’t in English, which is why lots of international artistes, from A-Ha to Air, have made so much Anglophone music. And which is why I salute those who would rather write decent lyrics in their native tongues, even though it obviously limits their international appeal.

This goes especially for German band Wir Sind Helden. Now, I can actually understand frontwoman Judith Holofernes’s sweet, smart, funny lyrics, and I’m pretty sure that this is part of why I like them, but their jaunty, ridiculously catchy yet bittersweet indie-pop crosses languages barriers.  The long-awaited (by Germans, and me) new Helden album Bring Mich Nach Hause (trans: Bring Me Home) came out on Friday, and I was possibly the only person in Ireland who was really excited about it. And rightly so, because it’s great, if a lot more folky and melancholy than their previous work.

Speaking of which, here’s their very first self-released single ‘Guten Tag’, a perfect slice of jittery electro-pop:

And ‘Gekommen um zu Bleiben’ (trans: Here To Stay) which is unashamedly goofy but which I’m including because I love the video and it always cheers me up (possibly because I wish I could take part in a video like this):

And speaking of cool videos, I love this Tin Tin-inspired one too (I often find myself singing this song while pootling around the kitchen):

So surely I’m not alone in my defiantly uncool affection for non-English-language pop music? What are your international favourites? Do you prefer people who sing in a language that you can understand, even if it’s not your native tongue? Or do you, like me, rather like the layer of mystery that comes with complete incomprehension of the lyrics?

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What kind of taxi driver have you got lately?

THE GANGLAND GUY: Dark-haired, slick and slightly ugly, this guy is a rabid fan of stripey shirts and bobbing dashboard Holy Mary’s. He knew Marlo Hyland personally and it wasn’t all broken bones and bullets in the head… he bought local people hampers and goldfish at Christmas… a decent old spud, if you happened to be on his good side. This geezer was also the first taxi driver to take Paul Williams out to Ballymun to interview real drug-pushers. “I could tell ye some stories, wha!” he’ll say, as the car clock ticks in time to your tachycardia. “The cops are wide to who blasted Hyland, but they just want them all to do each other in ‘cos it saves them having to do a job at the end of the day. It’s not just 9mm handguns anymore, they’re coming down with Glocks, Berettas, machine guns, even bombs.” You’ll also find out which inner city Garda station houses the most crooked cops, the best way to jump a bank counter (while keeping da eyes peeled), how drugs are smuggled into The ‘Joy inside hard-boiled eggs and the intricacies of the ‘Knacker Nelson’, a variant of the Full Nelson, that will cut off the flow of spinal fluid to any enemy’s brain. “Click Clack!” he’ll say, as you cautiously shift one leg out the door and tell him to keep the change. “Gone in the wink of a bleedin’ eye if ye do it nice ‘n proper,” he explains. “Have a nice noight!”

THE MARSHMALLOW CULCHIE: He’s going straight home after this for a ham sandwich and a bowl of leek & potato soup. In all their 52 years of marriage never a day goes by that she doesn’t make a big pot of the home-made soup. Sometimes even with the pearl barley in it. But she’s in a bit of a tizzy this week because she has a 21st down in Clonakilty, though she doesn’t want to go on account of her not drinking, but she’s just a bit concerned it’ll offend the sister, who’s had no luck lately ‘cos of the son in Mallow General getting the stomach pumped and him with a terrible drink problem after causing the family no end of shame. There’s 12 on her side and 15 on his, and three of them are called Bridget but that’s a whole different story, and if the young fella doesn’t stop drinking he’s going to surely die, the whole family driven demented with it and hadn’t the uncle only recently got him into the AA, after him being through the same thing too, but sure it did no good at all and The Girlfriend went ahead and left him after not being able to take any more and didn’t she shack up with a mechanic from Skibbereen which sent the nephew back on the drink altogether and sure the 21st will only bring it all to a head, which is why The Wife doesn’t want to go, but they’ll discuss it again over the bowl of soup when he gets home and decide then. “Do you want a receipt for that?”

THE CONSPIRACY FLIRTIST: “Do you believe in UFOs luv ?” [silence] “Ah, so you’re the suspicious type? Or else you are a believer but you just don’t want to say ‘cos it’s so early in the morning and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘this taxi driver is a bit of a bleedin’ spacer!?'” [pause: well, I was going to say…] “Let me stop you there luv, have you heard of a website called theinsider or abovetopsecret or evidence? [silence] “No? I didn’t think so. Most people think those sites are just for madsers, like, but I’ll give ye a proper example. You know the whole thing: did they land on the moon or didn’t they – well they did go to the moon and they did land there but all that coverage of them getting out and walking around in slow motion – that was shot in a studio later when they got back to earth – do you know why? [silence] “Because there was already space craft on the moon when they got there. And it wasn’t ours! And don’t be thinking either that Bush didn’t head on in to Afghanistan or Iraq for no reason! They needed the oil and resources to bring to de other planets. They’re colonising the planets and the rest of us are going to be left pretty much fucked and who do you think will be the first ‘up there’ with the Americans?” [silence] “The Israelis of course. Yer man Benjaminwhatshisface. And all the Bin Ladens too. And  that muppet Blair. The whole lotta dem. Mad stuff altogether. You see luv I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’m a conspiracy factist, cos it’s all 500% above-board-true. Anyway, lovely talking to ye.” [silence] “Here’s me card if ye ever need another taxi”. [silence]

THE RECESSION VIRTUOSO: A sandy-haired, freckled and excitable critter with two or three tabloids and loose food items straddled between the front seats (squashed coleslaw roll, The Irish Sun, Mars bar, The Daily Mail, Johnny Onion Rings, Fanta, etc.). Wears a Karl Jackson ‘affordable’ suit. Whiffs of Aramis. Photo of two young girls on park swings bluetacked to the dashboard beside a miniature Padre Pio head made of tin. Within two minutes of take-off he lets loose that he was once a valued employee in an insurance claims department or that he trained as an actuary or had his own stationery business before 1. divorce, 2. redundancy, 3. recession. But more importantly: he knew about our economic kiss of death, five years ago. “I’d a guy here in the car one day, now I won’t say who, but believe me this is a face you’d instantly recognise off the telly… let’s just say, for the sake of argument, this guy was talking to another guy, right? An economist type, again you’d instantly recognise off the telly, an exuberant sort of chap, let’s not name names here, and the well-known guy, let’s just say again for the sake of argument, he was a Minister back then, the navy three-piece, über polished shoes, cufflinks, the works, and he’d just come from a top-notch meeting of some sort on Kildare Street there and he said to this other guy: ‘Have you any investments stashed away at all? Because I’m telling you now boyo, after what I’ve just heard, they won’t be there in a year’s time’.  Now no word of a lie that was back in early 2005 or was it in the summer when I got the house done? Definitely 2005 anyway, when the property boom was still chugging away and every eejit was grabbing a holiday home in Kusadasi or the south of France. I knew what was going to happen. Tried to warn people, but…”

THE SEETHING RACIST: Irish women weren’t getting raped before ‘they’ came here. Not content with taking our jobs they want all our women as well. Or maybe that’s no surprise because they probably get bored beating the shite out of their own. You see they want it so there’s a load of brown kids out there and we can no longer decipher black from white in this country anymore. Every scam under the sun. ATM machines to illegal casinos and identity fraud. Ten of them working a cab 24 hours on the trot and up to 20 sharing a house so they can rent out the free ones they’re getting from the government and make even more money that way. The Eastern Health Board have no problem buying them taxis, buying the plates for them and sure here, throw in the driving lessons and the tax and insurance while you’re at it, because bubbawubba or whatever his name is allegedly came from some shit war zone and needs all the help poor old little Ireland can give, even though we’re stone broke and can’t even hold up our own. Except that he forgot to mention he stopped off in the Netherlands for ten years where he ran a successful drug empire and now he’s selling crack to Irish kids up in Moore Street out of some makey-uppy hairdressers or Internet shop. Makes me sick to the stomach. If I had my way I’d shoot the lot of them, stone dead, and save up the bodies for bonfires at Halloween.

THE ERUPTING PERV: You know it amazes me how many youn’wans out there seem to think it’s A-OK to have a night out on de razz wearing Sweet-F-A. What’s all that about, huh? We’re not talking here about the auld tic tacs hanging out, I’ve no problem with that, I’m just as red-blooded as the best of them: I’m the first to admit I get a horn that would beat a donkey out of a quarry when I see a really good-looking woman… but skirts so short you can almost see the tampon string hanging out! Now don’t mind me, I just speak me mind, nothing wrong with that, is there? What age are you, jaysus now, I’d say you’re no more than 28. Anyway, I just say it how it is. That’s me. But you wouldn’t believe the way some of these young girls throw themselves at ye when they’re bombed outta their little heads. I’ve had girls in here talkin’ sausages, totally out of it, fallin’ all around the seats showing their knickers ‘n all sorts. Total pecker wreckers, and byjaysus if they’re lucky enough to score a youn’fla they’ve no problem at all trying to give him a handy shandy in the back, knowing full well that I’ve no choice but to look in the mirror when I’m trying to keep an eye on the road. Do they think they’re on bleedin’ Xhamster or something!? I had two youn’wans in the cab only last week, a fare all the way out to Ashbourne, about 1am, sozzled, both of them. When we get there one says to the other, ‘you go on in and I’ll deal with him’, then didn’t she only turn around and offer to get down on her knees and suck the shark for the taxi fare! Tell me, what would you do if you were me and you were faced with that dilemma?

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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