Combining O, for the A to Z Challenge, with my normal Monday music-related ‘Rock Notes’, we are drawn ineluctably to the simple yet potent phrase ‘One, Two, Three, Four’.

The count-off – “Fellas, can I count it off?” – has on occasion been elevated to a special place of importance within records (James Brown’s Sex Machine, as quoted above). Many variants have occurred down the years. ‘Five, six seven, eight’. Mixing it up linguistically, with ‘Uno, dos, tres, cuatro,’ as used by the divine S’Express, for s’example. ‘Uno, dos, tres, catorce,’ U2 not only mixing it up linguistically but numerically, with the ’14’ signifying the precise number of people who heard that song’s count-off and didn’t hate it.

However, none of these start with O, and so today that means that we have to turn, of course, to the undisputed President of Count-Offs; Count Offula: the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

Not just one but TWO count-offs. OK, the ‘four’ seems a little lost in the flood, but, y’know, you have to be able to really count to take such liberties. The count-off before the final verse (“The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive…”), every single time I hear this song in any context, causes me extensive goosebumps. Hey ho, rock n roll, deliver me from nowhere.

You too can learn the way of the count-off. Here’s a Springsteen tutorial.

‘Hut! Hoo! Hee! Hoa!’

B is for Bruce.

The Birthday Book has this quotation:
“A spark neglected makes a mighty fire.”
– Robert Herrick

This sparked – HA! –  me thinking of Bruce Springsteen’s immortal Dancing in the Dark, and then – of course – his back catalogue rendered in 17th Century styles (‘This tale/a vale/does hail:/Ah me!/Mary,/the lea…’ ‘Upon Mary’s Dress’,  ‘To the Bootleggers, To Roll of their Tapes’, etc).

Then Bruce popped up in the news, dancing with his mum at a gig. I’ve thought he’s awesome since I was 9, and he’s still here, still going, still awesome.

Some more Springsteen to close below. Just need to mention that this post was almost set for yesterday, April 1st. I had a riff on the REM lyric (End of the world as we know it), apparently inspired by a dream about being at a party where everyone had the initials LB:

Leonard Bernstein,
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs
Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom!

Right? Right. Except in my April Fool’s conceit of getting the letters wrong, and it not being true, it was people called BS – Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Sterling, Ben Stiller, Bill Stewart…)

Ultimately I decided against it, partly on the grounds of becoming personally confused by the concept (“So, is this going to be the actual A to Z post, or just a joke post?”), and mostly because I just wanted it to be all Bruce S.s… then it was pretty much straight away all Bruce.

K-Bruce, my FM station. “All Bruce! All the time!”

And a 1, a 2, a 1, 2, 3, 4.

Today I received the FX pedal from Online Second Hand Purchase Site. The missing piece of the guitar set-up. Now officially ready to rock.


Here’s the pedal, an MXR M78:


Station. The manual revealed Dunlop/MXR employs copy writers with a dry little sense of humour. I can’t wait to get it plugged in and sample the ’90s alternative sound – Smells Like Flannel Angst’.

If there’s one guitar sound from 1978 I always wanted to replicate, it would be this one:

[Cut to me sausage fingering my way through the solo to ‘Teen Spirit’]

To be continued. Meanwhile, be excellent to yourselves… (Diddly-iddly-eee!)

Hello pop pickers!

Our belov’d daughter began toddling about around the end of last year. She’s taking delight in exploration, seeing which items respond to chewing, folding, tearing, clambering. She is a great help in moving objects from one part of a room to another part of the room, or occasionally a different room. Items that need storing safely can be found in the bin with ease.

She also likes to dance, frugging enthusiastically to a selection of styles, from the radio and other recorded media.

Our front room has some shelves of records. Not a vast collection, but quality not quantity, etc.


Astute readers might have seen where this is heading…

For, indeed, among the toddling one’s newest amusements (hers and ours) is to pick a particular platter from the shelves and convey it to the turntable across the room, ready to be played. I mean, I’m not making any claims that she’s the new Grand Mixer DXT, just to be clear about the little indigo snowflake. There’re probably quite a few interpretations of the successful methods of selection – random, slippy sleeves, so on – and there’s a fair bit of dropping the disks en route… She has at least got the whole ‘records -> record player’ thing down. Give a doting dad that much.

Last weekend’s choices:

They Might Be Giants – Lincoln


A fine collection, featuring fantastic tunes with deft lyrics, such as Ana Ng (“I don’t want the world, I just want your half.”) and the devastating They’ll Need A Crane (“There’s a restaurant we should check out where the other nightmare people like to go – I mean nice people, baby wait, I didn’t mean to say nightmare.” GENIUS.)

It also has the creepy also genius of Where Your Eyes Don’t Go (“You’re free to come and go or talk like Kurtis Blow but there’s a pair of eyes in back of your head.”)

In the same session, our DJ picked out Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love, and made her way over to the turntable. That’s my girl!


(“I got something on my mind/that sets me walking straight and proud/and I want all the time/all that heaven will allow.”)

I promise this is a relatively recent innovation, and I’m not withholding hundreds of selections of a rogue Mike Love album, sort of like those incredible basketball shots on YouTube that take 354,000 goes before finally coming off. She did have a bit of an eye for a terrible Dolly Parton LP for a short while, although I suspect that was all about the mem-mems.


The possibility of capturing all this DJ action on film has occurred to me, but a) there’s the awareness it’d be a bit ‘You’ve Been Framed’ cheesy and b) it’d have to be done super sneakily anyway because she’s moving faster and faster by the day. It’ll be Anthrax, Motorhead and Squarepusher before we know it.

Anyway – keep it locked on Toddler FM for more hand-selected classic vinyl sounds!

Station ident: DJ Little Pumpkin, now being picked up.

I wasn’t kidding when I suggested that Civilization II was a menace to one’s productivity (which is down, so I suggest building a Factory). It has now been uninstalled, and normal life can resume. Let us never speak of it again.

Friday last, 22nd June 2012, to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, UK, to watch Bruce Spingsteen and the E Street Band.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the high esteem in which I hold The Boss. You might wish to cast an eye over this post, part of the interminable “25 albums that changed my life” series, on Born in the USA or the one about The Big Man, the late Clarence Clemons. If you’re on the Mortal Bath homepage, you could also click on the ‘hey ho rock n roll deliver me from nowhere’ tag, a Bruce quote that serves as one of my enduring prayers.

We arrived in a moderate fluster about five minutes after he was supposed to start, realised he hadn’t, sauntered in, grabbed a beer, made our way down to the pitch, looked around a bit and then he came on pretty much immediately. Timing’s everything. Venuewise, the stadium is a big prefab-looking number, everything one might expect from a building sponsored by an airline, with all the warm permanence of a concession stand in a Departure Lounge. Nice lines, just a bit plastic-looking.

Bruce, and the E Street Band, are more durable. With a combined age of about 10,500, they still played for pretty much three and a half hours. This is standard – they managed four and a half at a gig in Madrid. Watching the BBC’s Hackney Weekend festival footage over the weekend after, I was hard pushed to name more than about three artists that might be capable of or inclined to doing the same thing. Different ball parks, perhaps different leagues, perhaps not even the same sports.

Ah, look, anyway, Bruce was great. Sincerely uplifting, as a collective experience and as a personal experience. I couldn’t believe no one else around me was as excited that they played The E Street Shuffle!

Maybe they were, they just didn’t shriek with joy and do the Snoopy dance for 10 minutes.

The only thing I can add to any of this is a couple of clips, 20 minutes of performance, filmed by YouTube users LucyMearns and Outrightunlawful – thanks to whom for their sterling work. It’s all here: crowd dancing, James Brown-esque faux-fatigue, panto cameo by Miami Steve and his Magic Sponge, triumphant shirt removal, beautifully judged tribute to Clarence… oh, and two pretty amazing songs.

“Bootleggers! Roll your tapes!”

…and Hey ho, rock n roll! Delivering us from nowhere.

Caveat: it is not without wariness that I appropriate song lyrics, movie quotes & titles. To an extent, all word juggling is a weird sort of magical allusion. And it comes about that some words which seem piddling and insignificant or irrelevant lead me through to different areas of understanding. My understanding of the universe I’m in has been partly shaped through different authors, musicians, groups, soloists, films… emotions affected, nuance added to emotion, pictures sharpened or obscured. They all make as much sense as each other in different ways. Shots trombone: I find I catch sight of myself imitating in crazy mirrors, strutting or bent sinister in 5D. There are always further reflections to be found, and one might never be able to account for all the implications. Crazy mirrors…

You’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t, rise above.

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of love

‘Ten years asleep’ is, however, not a Bruce lyric. It’s a song by Kingmaker. Kingmaker was a pre-Britpop band from Kingston upon Hull, chewed up and stuck flat to the pavement by the mid-1990s. I saw them support The Wonder Stuff in 1991, 20 years ago this December. They were not a bad band. Paul D. Heaton, of The Beautiful South, and also a Kingston-upon-Hullion, saw them as middle-class chancers from suburban castles. I would tend to agree that there was an element of the student/indie disco irritant about them, but what their address has to do with anything is beside the by. Perhaps a similar gleam of clever-clever bitterness momentarily threatened Heaton’s industry.

True Pop Anecdote: a personal experience of Paul Heaton. I was working in a hotel bar in 1994, serving him a gin & tonic with Becks chaser at 10.30am, and he invited me out for a drink with him and pals when I finished. I arrived at Bairds Bar in the Gallowgate around 14.00 in time to see him being carried out, paralytic, by two of the crew. My pints of lager were supped with a more together companion of his. Make what you will of that metaphor for the working-class artistic burden.

Anyway, I remember reading that the Kingmaker song ‘Ten Years Asleep’ was written as a comment on the preceding decade of Conservative government, the co-opting of 1970s punks into The MANagement, the gleeful abandonment of a society identified as non-existent by Mrs Thatcher, the triumph of the brutes. ‘Don’t pretend to care when you don’t care,’ it suggested that lamentations were meaningless if a society was just going through the motions, if complicity was commonplace.

Of course, of course, the point is, I was reminded of this track by hearing and reading nothing all week but ‘ten years on’ themed pieces. The ten year anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the USA, specifically the passenger jets flown into the World Trade Centres and the Pentagon, as well as the loss of a flight presumed headed for the White House. I haven’t wanted to join in the mass of commentary, of remembrance and application of meaning and justification. This is partly because I have communicated my thoughts in other places over the years since then, in anti-war pamphlets, blogs and such. It is partly because I thought it would be superfluous. What can I add?

It was a fucking shame, excuse my Anglo Saxon, that so many people died, it always is a shame, as it is a shame that so many more thousands have died since in wars fought to no good purpose but for national leaders to be seen to be doing something about something about which nothing can be done, not by perpetual war.

I said this on the day in 2001, in fact, and I recall because I wrote it down: ‘There’ll be a horrible bloody revenge attack on someone, when they could be turning the other cheek.’ Rising above. By which I meant not doing nothing, but inviting dialogue, finding out why and what for and what could be done to stop it. Perhaps spending military budget money on building bridges, I mean, actual bridges, or schools, perhaps, perhaps getting into actually unbelievable levels of debt doing nice stuff, for example.

However, there was no cheek turning, just a continuation of the previous decades’ posturing and out of focus ideologies. Hearing G.W. Bush today talking about God, as if it helps give him gravity, and Blair in a BBC interview surfacing to offer the demented view that his foreign policy actions have had no impact on people worldwide… I wonder about that failure of logic, the absence of even a smidgen of understanding of words meaning peace, hope, love, the same as I wonder about any people who try to justify murder and vicious attack. I wonder… well, I read somewhere – I am having trouble sourcing the quote – that Christopher Hitchens, who supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, criticised those opposing the wars as the kind of people who, on discovering a poisonous snake in their child’s room, would first call People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I like to think of myself as the kind of person who would not respond to such a discovery by setting fire to the rest of the house.

It is unfortunate that these are the first things that come to my mind, that this is a world that’s been ten years asleep, having nightmares of planes slamming into buildings and war without end, bitterness without resolution, people believing everything that people tell them about what must be done, that things must be done, that people must be told. I think this is part of the reason why I have become a teacher. I wanted to encourage people to think for their selves, to understand and to question words, so the people that want to burn down the house cannot sustain forever a monopoly on running things.

All I can add today: peace.