500 Songs Episode 0 Now Up!

The introduction episode to my new podcast is now up here or on your usual podcast platforms. This one’s just a seven-minute-long introduction to what I’ll be doing with the series — normally they’ll be around twenty-five minutes and have music excerpts. I hope you like it.

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The fatigue is attacking me again. It’s crept up on me over the last month, its approach hidden by the same things that were causing it — the work stress; the fact that my wife has spent much of the last month away because a family obligation was inconveniently timed with a political obligation, the vomiting bug I picked up last week that stopped me from going to Thought Bubble….

But now all of these stressors have gone, and I’m left with The Fatigue.

Those of you who don’t have a chronic illness don’t know what fatigue means. You think you do, but you don’t. Even those of us who do suffer often suffer alone, because it’s an aspect of being chronically ill that most people (by which I mean medical “authorities”) don’t talk about. It’s not regarded as a big deal — after all, everyone gets tired, right?

Not like this. Not at all like this.

Because it’s an aspect of inflammatory illness that most of you will never think about. You’re very lucky. But people with ME, or arthritis, or some kinds of depression, or a dozen other chronic conditions know it all too well.

It’s the fault of my immune system. You see, when the body becomes inflamed, that’s usually because your immune system is fighting off an infection. And one of the things it does, when it’s doing this, is to make you very tired, so you go to sleep and your body doesn’t use up energy that could be used on fighting. And so, when you have the flu or something, you sleep a lot. But then you get better, and you feel OK.

When you have an autoimmune illness — or any other kind of chronic condition that causes inflammation — that doesn’t happen. You go to sleep tired, you wake up tired. Day after day after day. If you’re one of the luckier ones, like me, and your condition has peaks and troughs, eventually after a few weeks or months you *stop* being tired — until the next bit of stress comes along and triggers another bout of the illness, and you start to get tired again.

Sleep doesn’t help. Your body constantly craves sleep, but no matter how much you get, you never wake up any less tired than you went to sleep. Caffeine and sugar don’t help — you’ll pump them into yourself (if you’re lucky enough not to have a condition that makes you unable to) and you’ll get jittery and wired, but you’ll never feel awake.

You can’t concentrate. You can’t *think* — when the fatigue hits me, I have a huge amount of difficulty even finding basic words. I become aphasic, but more than that I lose concepts, I lose my ability to make connections. For someone whose life is entirely of the mind, like mine, that’s torture.

You get to understand, intimately, the meaning of the words “burned out”, which feel like they have a very literal meaning. You feel empty, hollow inside. You look like you’re just the same as you were, but there’s nothing inside and you feel that at any moment the shell will fold in on itself and crumble, revealing the nothing within.

But there’s still a heat there, inside. A burning in your eyes and in your brain, like you’ve rubbed chili juice into your eyes.

But the worst thing, the thing that tortures you the most, the thing that just keeps coming back to me over and over, is the fact that you can’t fix it, but that your body insists you must try. There is a constant biological pressure to sleep, even though you know that you’ll wake up as tired as you were when you went to sleep — and even though every other aspect of your circadian system is conspiring to keep you awake. If you’ve ever had your body’s drives telling you to do something you can’t — if you’ve ever had to fast, or gone without water before an operation, or things of that nature — you know how awful it is when your body is urging you to do something you can’t do, how difficult it is to master, even for a time, your biological urges.

Now imagine that those urges are telling you to do something, not only that you can’t do, but which you intellectually know to be futile. Imagine you were starving hungry, there was an infinite supply of cream cakes, but you knew that every time you ate one you’d vomit it straight back up, or imagine that you were dying of thirst on a raft on the ocean, surrounded by salt water. And now imagine that, because you’re not actually doing without the basic biological necessities, you manage to live in that state for weeks or months or years at a time. Imagine that you get the occasional reprieve, but know you’ve got a progressive condition, and one day the fatigue will come and will just never go away again, and that this might be that time.

And imagine that there was not only no cure for this, but that the medical authorities didn’t even care about it — that they heard you saying you were fatigued and simply said “well, we all get tired” and then spent all their time caring about your joints or your weight or something else that doesn’t bother you at all in comparison.

Imagine being trapped in a situation where your body, where every biological instinct, is urging you to relieve yourself by a method which you’ve known, since you were a baby, solves that problem, but which now doesn’t.

Of course, I know far too many of you don’t have to imagine. Far too many of my friends have ME, or arthritis, or fibromyalgia, or any of the dozen chronic conditions that make you feel like this. But for those of you who don’t, that’s what it’s like for many of us.

(And this is also gendered — I am a cis man, but these conditions seem to affect women far more, and to be dismissed far more when they do. The patriarchy is a big part of society’s ableism towards this kind of condition).

And it’s back again for me, after a few months of not feeling too awful. And, like every time, I’m hoping that this time isn’t the last one, the one that just never ends. But it feels like it is — like every time — and it’ll probably last for months. The bad patches have been getting longer, and the good patches shorter, and yet I still never remember what this is like when I’m in the good patch. I can’t. My body won’t let me. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

But anyway, the basic point here is — if you see someone talking about how they’re fatigued, and they’re chronically ill, this is what they mean. They mean something that destroys your quality of life more than any other symptom, they mean something that destroys your personality and your thought processes. They mean their life is being slowly drained away and that they’re being destroyed bit by bit, by a craving that can never be sated, by a drive that can never be fulfilled, by something that seems the simplest, easiest, problem in the world to fix — you’re tired? Have a nap! — but which can never, ever, even be ameliorated.

I’m so tired of being tired.

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500 Songs Now Up And Running

My new podcast, A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs is now all good to go. Episode zero — an introduction — will be up on Monday, and the first episode proper will be up on the 8th of October. I’ve got those, plus the episode for the fifteenth, all scheduled and ready to go, and there’s a ten-second bit of theme music already there for those of you who want to get your podcatchers ready. You can find the podcast at 500songs.com. Here’s the RSS feed, the iTunes link, and the Stitcher link.

To get a podcast on Google Play you need to be at a US IP address, so that’ll have to wait until I’m in the US for Xmas, and I’ll be trying to get the podcast onto Spotify once five episodes are up.

Meanwhile, as part of the process of doing this, I’ve been creating Mixcloud mixes with the full versions of the songs used in the podcasts. Here’s the first two:

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Full Details of My New Podcast

OK… so I can finally make the announcement official.

In exactly one week, my podcast, A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs, will start up, I’ll post a link here, but it’ll be available from 500songs.com and all your usual podcast sources (iTunes and so forth), though it may take a while to percolate through to them all. I’m still working on trying to get a logo together and things like that, but I’ve got the domain bought and a host worked out and I’ll have the domain linked to the backend in the next day or two.

I’m starting with a soft launch intro episode, and the first few episodes will not have perfect professional production (though I’ve got good reason to think that may change starting in November — we’ll see how that goes) but I’ve got enough of it done now that I can let you all know what the first month and a bit’s worth of episodes will be. Except where noted they’ll be around 25 minutes long.

Monday 1 Oct: 0 – Introduction

A ten minute or so introduction, laying out my plans for the series.

Mon 8 Oct: 1 – Flying Home

Looking at Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Ilinois Jacquet and more

Mon 15 Oct: 2 – Roll ‘Em Pete

Looking at Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner

Mon 22 Oct: 3a – Disclaimer, or Why I’m Not Talking About Spade Cooley

A brief five-minute podcast on my attitudes towards important artists and their at-times abhorrent behaviour.

Mon 22 Oct: 3 – Ida Red

Looking at Bob Wills, the Texas Playboys, and the Light Crust Doughboys

Mon 29 Oct: 4 – Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie

Looking at Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

I think people are going to like this a lot, even those of you who don’t like my music writing but do like, say, my comics writing, and here’s why.

There are two types of writing I do on this site. One is the kind I do most often, where something needs to be said or I’ve found something interesting to talk about. That’s often (I hope) interesting, but that’s all it is.

The other kind, though, is the kind that I did when I wrote An Incomprehensible Condition or Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! or California Dreaming — it’s non-fiction, but it almost feels like fiction when I’m writing it. I start to get inspired and see patterns in things — even things I’ve known about before for years, I suddenly see new stories there, and new links between things I never thought were linked.

And that’s definitely happening here. Let me tell you a little bit about how I put this together. I had the idea for doing the podcast a few months back, and started making notes then, and my original set of notes had a rough list of what songs I’d want to do for the first few. But it wasn’t a very firm list — it went something like:

1) Flying Home

2) Some early R&B or boogie thing

3) Something Western Swing like Bob Wills, or maybe a Jimmie Rodgers song

4) Louis Jordan song — Caldonia? Choo-Choo?

That kind of thing. But as I started narrowing these down slightly — and I’ll admit right now that I chose “Roll ‘Em Pete” simply because it’s namechecked in a good book on pre-rock music called “Before Elvis” and it kind of fit the slot I had there, I could have chosen half a dozen more in its place — and writing about them, I realised that just by telling each of these separate stories — and they are, *completely*, separate stories — I was telling a much bigger story that had a lot of other stuff in it, a story that centres around the legendary jazz concerts at Carnegie Hall that started and ended 1938. A story about crossing of racial lines and black and white musicians collaborating despite segregation.

Motifs keep popping up — those first six episodes, over five weeks, will feature stories about novelty boogie-woogie records, and tuberculosis, and about entertainment strikes and plagiarism and stolen credit and Communism and racism. We’ll hear about how a white man is usurped by a good man, who’s beaten by a disabled black man. We’ll see *many* appearances by John Hammond who’ll still be in the story in several hundred songs’ time, and you’ll learn about hokum songs and a blackface performer who inspired one of the greatest black musicians ever. With special appearances from Billie Holiday, the Marx Brothers, Governor Pappy O’Daniel, Les Paul, and a boogly-woogly piggy.

I think you’ll like it.

For each episode, I’m going to attach a blog post at 500songs.com, which will contain the script I’m reading for the podcasts plus links to a few sources and some errata (I’ve already noticed one in episode two, for example). I’ll also link to a mixcloud mix containing full versions of every song I excerpt in the shows.

The plan is that I’m going to get one of these out every week for about ten years, and that every two years I’ll collect rewritten versions of the essays into books — A History Of Rock Music In 500 Songs, Vols 1 – 5. It’s a hugely ambitious undertaking for me, and it’ll come to about two million words in total. It’ll be my magnificent octopus. It starts the week of my fortieth birthday, and should finish (allowing for a few skipped weeks or non-song episodes) around the time of my fiftieth.

I’ll also be starting a second podcast a week or so after this — a fiction podcast in which I read my short stories. I’ve already got a bit of that recorded, but don’t have a name for it yet, and I’m open to suggestions.

Also, while I’m talking about my music writing, just so people know I *will* be posting more Nilsson stuff soon. I’m also planning to write reviews of the new box set version of Imagine by John Lennon (the MP3 version only, as I don’t have a Blu-Ray player), the new box set of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (again, the MP3 version, this time because there’s only so many times you can buy the same album on physical media), and the new Monkees Christmas CD. I won’t, though, be reviewing the new six-disc White Album box set unless someone buys me a copy or my Patreon donations increase *wildly* — I’ve taken an income drop from my freelance income recently, and I don’t have a spare hundred and forty quid to spend on it, much as I desperately want to.

This blog post — and my podcasts! — are brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

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Request for Feedback on a Disclaimer

I’m working on the script for episode three of my history of rock and roll podcast, and I want to use it to bring up something early on which will apply to far too many of these episodes in one way or another.

(Trigger warnings: mention of domestic and sexual violence and murder)

This is an excerpt here from the script for episode three, where I’m going to talk about why I’m *not* talking in any detail about Spade Cooley, who one would otherwise expect me to discuss. But I want it to sort of work as a blanket cover for the whole five-hundred-episode podcast. Could people *please* tell me if they think it’s OK and takes the right tone?

(NB I am mostly interested here in the opinions of people who might be affected by these issues. I know it isn’t offensive or upsetting or demeaning to *me*, as an allocishet man who’s never been the victim of this kind of crime, so don’t particularly need to hear other privileged men tell me that they don’t see a problem. I want to know if people who might be hurt by this are being hurt, and if so what I can do to change it).

Now before I continue, I’d just like to point out that I am simplifying a very complex story here enormously, and to get the full detail you should check out the wonderful podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones, which deals with country music history far better than I ever could. In particular, you need to check out the episode about Spade Cooley, if you have a strong stomach.

You see, there were two people who were generally called “the King of Western Swing”, rivals for the title who both had a good claim for it. One of them was Bob Wills, and I’m going to talk about him here. The other was Spade Cooley, and Cooley was a domestic abuser who eventually murdered his wife, horribly.

Now, this is a history of rock and roll, and so I am going to have to deal with a lot of abusers, sex criminals, and even a few murderers. You simply can’t tell the history of rock and roll without talking about Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Phil Spector, Jimmy Page… I could go on. But suffice to say that I think the assumption one should make when talking about rock music history is that any man discussed in it is a monster unless proved otherwise.

I’m going to have to talk about those men’s work, and how it affected other things, because it’s so influential. And I admire a lot of that work. But I never, ever, want to give the impression that I think the work in any way mitigates their monstrosity, or do that thing that so many people do of excusing them because “it was a different time”.

But in order for this to be a history of rock music, and not a prurient history of misogynistic crime, I’m probably not going to mention every awful thing these people do. I’m going to deal with it on a case by case basis, and I *will* make wrong calls. If I don’t mention something when I get to one of those men, and you think it needed mentioning, by all means tell me about it in comments. But please don’t take that lack of mention as being endorsement of those people.

However, in the case of Spade Cooley, he needed mentioning here, because I’m talking about Western swing. But Cooley’s overall influence on rock and roll is basically zero, so for the rest of this episode, I’m going to pretend he never existed. If you want to hear about him, check out that Cocaine and Rhinestones episode. It’s horrifying, but it puts him in his proper context. But please take this as a general disclaimer for every episode of this podcast.

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500 Songs Podcast Preview For Patreons

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve started writing and recording a couple of new podcasts. One will be of my short fiction, the other one, A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs will be just that.
They will be free for everyone to listen to, but I thought Patreon backers would like a sneak preview, so I’ve uploaded, for backers only, episode two of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs (the first one I completed, because I want to make the actual episode one when I’ve got a bit of experience in doing this) to my Patreon. It’s on “Roll ‘Em Pete” by Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson, and also covers hokum songs, floating lyrics, how industrial action probably caused rock and roll, and boogly woogly piggies.
Patreon backers can find it here.

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New Projects

I’m soon going to be starting two new projects, and I thought you might all like to know about them.

Now, I know that I’ve started a lot of projects on here, and only a small fraction of them have happened, but the first of these is, in part, a music book project, and I’ve completed all of those that I’ve started.

But it’s more than that. This is a series of five books, and an ongoing podcast. I’ve already started writing the books, and I’m planning to get the first podcast episode out in October. It’s called A History Of Rock Music in 500 Songs, and it will look at rock and roll’s history, and its prehistory. It’ll be similar to my book California Dreaming, but on a much bigger scale — that looked at music made in one town, over a period of a decade. This will be looking at at least the whole of North America and the UK, and probably touching on other countries as well, and over a period from the 1930s to 2000 or so.

My plan for this is simple. I’ll release weekly episodes. For each of these I’ll be writing an essay, which will be posted as a blog post and will eventually make up a chapter of the books. That essay will be the basis for the podcast, but the podcast will not just be me reading the essay — I’ll be putting in excerpts of the music I’m talking about, I might pick up a guitar and demonstrate how some things are done, and I’ll probably go into rambling digressions. So the two things will share a common skeleton, but they’ll be different things, each suited to their own medium.

I’ll probably also, separately, put up Mixcloud mixes of the full versions of every track I excerpt in each episode, and maybe do special Patreon bonuses as well (anyone backing me on Patreon will also be backing this podcast as well as this blog and my books, and I’ll update the text on it to that effect).

The idea with this will be to cover a mixture of the obvious stuff and the obscure, and to do what seems likely to tell the best story. I’ll *obviously* talk about the Beatles or Bowie or the obvious ones, but I’ll also want to talk about things that are in the margins but had a big influence.

I’ll be looking for suggestions, from the start, for stuff to cover, but *only* from the mid-seventies onwards, where the genre gets so big and so fragmented that I’m bound to have missed an interesting story if someone doesn’t point it out to me. But I’ve got the first hundred or so songs pretty firmly decided — there’s the obvious ones by Elvis or Buddy Holly, but I’ll also be looking at pre-rock stuff like records by Ernest Tubb, Benny Goodman, and Illinois Jacquet.

I’m going to start releasing these when I have the first batch of ten episodes done.

I’m also starting a *second* podcast, which will be me reading my short fiction. Again, that will be starting when I have the first ten episodes done, again hopefully in October — that one is easier because I already have more than ten short stories I can use for the podcast. However, for that one I’m looking for a title for the podcast — if anyone can think of one, given the kind of stories I write, please suggest one.

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