A bittersweet longing for
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Mulatu Astatqé - "Tezeta (Nostalgia)". Quinn says he was listening to this on a snowy day in Montreal, a snow-and-icy day and there in the bitter cold it stopped him dead in his tracks. And so I imagine him on rue Parc, just at Prince Arthur, across the road from the cinema, at the moment his boots come to a stop on the saltspeckled sidewalk. And he blinks and looks up at the sky, a puff of steamy air leaving his mouth. He stops breathing he's listening so hard. He stops feeling cold. He starts feeling warm. Quinn's stopped because he can't believe the tenderness of the song. He listens to the buttery sax, feels it like fingers on his chest.

I'm projecting. I'm sorry, Quinn. You told me the first part but the rest I made up. But here's a true thing. Listen: Sean's on a street in Scotland and the sun's not come up and the streets look wet but there's no rain. And he stands at the bus-stop and he imagines a man in Montreal, walking along rue du Parc and turning onto Prince Arthur and just stopping there, right in his tracks, across from the cinema. He exhales steam that rises between the apartment buildings. He listens to the slow guitar and bass, the careful piano, the dark rose of Astatqé's saxophone. And the world around him is stepping back or maybe forward, receding or appearing. Montreal's getting clearer or foggier, he can't decide. The man in Scotland can't decide. But there it is.

Mulatu Astatqé is Ethopian, and has been picking up a lot of Western press thanks to his contributions to the soundtrack of Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. This song is from Ethopiques. [buy]


Camera Obscura - "Books Written For Girls". I went to see Camera Obscura on Friday. It was at the Edinburgh student union. Since I'm not a student, I had to sign in at the door and then get lost. When I found the basement bar it was full of young people -- am I allowed to say that? "Young people"? Younger people. People just about my age. People no younger than some friends of mine. But so many of them, in one spot, that the three or four years between me and them yawned and yawned and yawned. I watched them. Groups of friends, couples. A girl on a couch surrounded by four guys in corduroy jackets and specs. A boy with hair down to his waist, with a Delgados t-shirt on. Three girls in earrings and smiles, laughing, sipping from their big lagers, looking around.

Camera Obscura got on stage. Tracyanne looked out into the crowd with a steady, steady gaze. She had a flapper bob, a black frock, a frown that twisted and twisted. What was she evaluating? Me? The rest of the band didn't look so serious. The drummer laughed. They looked like they felt old, like me, but they looked okay. But Tracyanne's mouth twisted and twisted, and she stared at us.

When they started playing, nothing else really mattered; it felt like they were pumping memories out, into the air. Songs slipped from the folds of my brain into plain view; and Tracyanne sang them. It wasn't just that there was unexpected familiarity, though. Something in their soft-then-glittering music seemed dredged out of a forgotten corner of my heart. Long days walking, music in my ears. Sitting on a long car-ride, listening. A girl's voice, wry and longing. A piano that follows you down open alleyways. And then as you're becoming glum - drums that shuffle to standing, a trumpet that pipes up, that dips and dances, that casts sunlight. A guitar solo that's gold and golden.

It felt good, suddenly, feeling out-of-place in that room. It felt familiar.

There was a couple standing near me, much older than me, older than all of us. She was silent but friendly, nodding to the beat. But he was happy, so happy. He was fucking ecstatic. He squeezed her shoulder and sang along. He was tough-looking, but he crooned. The band would start a song and he would shout "Oh!", thrusting his drink into the air.

In the silence between songs, the man said that they had driven up from northern England to see the band. Camera Obscura nodded at him, glad that he had come. So he yelled a request. "Books Written For Girls," he yelled. He yelled it again and again, in a working-class shout.

"Sorry," they said. "We- We don't really remember it."

They played some more, and whenever there was some chatter in the crowd, or another request was called, the man bellowed out his request: "Books Written For Girls!"

"I'm sorry," said the guitarist. He looked truly sorry.

"It's all right," said the man. "Where y'from, then?"

"Somewhere not as hard as you," said the guitarist. And a smile.

"Oh, I'd love if you played 'Books Written For Girls'."

"I know," said the guitarist. "But if we don't play it, would you kill me?"

"Yep! [laugh] No, no. Naw. Naw. It's all right."

Eventually, inevitably, they played the song for him. They hadn't rehearsed it. They just looked at each-other, Tracyanne still so dark and steady and glum and bitter and wry, the guitarist happy to be playing music, the pianist doubtful. Here was a man with a big pint of lager sloshing, a man with big shoulders and a hard head, a man who yelled and roared with every bob of soft twee melody, who sang along at the top of his lungs. He loved the band so passionately, this tough man. So they played it for him.

I didn't remember the song from the song-title. I wondered what song he was requesting, all night. "Books Written For Girls"? Which one is that? Me, my favourite is "Keep It Clean", which they played, and played brilliantly. And new songs, too, which were good. But what's this one about books? What's the song that brought this man several hours in the car, with his partner?

Here. It's this one. When they played it, the room went calm. Maybe it was just me - maybe just me going calm. I felt like I was floating. Tracyanne sang. I listened, and I could feel something opening up all creaky inside me. Shutters unshuttered, blinds lifted. As Molly Bloom says - Yes.

I looked over at the man-who-yelled. We all did. As Camera Obscura played their beautiful, quiet song, glances came from all over the room. I saw Tracyanne look. I saw Carey look. I looked.

He was holding his sweetheart in his arms and their eyes were closed and they were smiling, piece piece peaceful.

[buy US / europe (the latter with more samples]


It's very important that you not miss Lavender Diamond's "You Broke My Heart", posted by Matt at You Ain't No Picasso. It's so many things I love: strident and pressing, jingling and jangling, a woman singing at the top of her range; either happy or sad I can't tell. You all listened to the Dorian Hatchet song that Dan posted, too, right? The one sung by guppies? Isn't it amazing? I'm totally ordering their EPs.

Eppy has written SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MUSIC CRITICS (especially if you are a member of a (local) band), and he's right.


Felix Lajko's 14 minute "Etno Camp" will follow later this week. I'm really chuffed that enthusiasm was expressed. I promise it's good.

Posted by Sean at January 17, 2006 3:00 AM

This man in Montréal, who lives steps away from Park Ave. imagines a man in Scotland dreaming of his city.

And smiles.

Posted by Simon Law at January 17, 2006 7:14 AM

I meant to buy the Broken Flowers soundtrack and forgot all about it.

The Camera Obscura track is very nice.

Posted by Tuwa at January 17, 2006 10:21 AM

That story about the man and his girl at the Camera Obscura show is the most touching and beatifully written story I've ever read on this (or any) blog. I really, really appreciate all the work that goes into writing something that involved and emotional - even if it really happened. You guys here inspire me, you really do.

Posted by the real Jerimee at January 17, 2006 11:29 AM

I have a brand new fondness for "that guy" who incessantly calls out drunken requests. I want to stand next to him and his companion at my next concert. What a great story. Thank you.

Posted by John at January 17, 2006 12:14 PM

ohhh and being that guy feels so damn good. thanks for an incredible post.

Posted by Chris at January 17, 2006 12:32 PM

skip the broken flowers soundtrack and just get ethiopiques vol. 4. or all of them, for that matter.

Posted by ASG at January 17, 2006 12:50 PM

your writing continues to wow me. Beautiful Sean, just beautiful.
I long to see what inspiration you will bring back from visiting the sun. Because Gd knows it will awe me and nourish me.

Posted by ru at January 17, 2006 1:30 PM

I so love Camera Obscura - and that sort of write-up (and writing) makes me love them more. Thanks.

Posted by Andy at January 17, 2006 2:01 PM

I too must gush, as your writing deserves it. Thank you for that tender image.

And for the scene in Montreal, as I just came back from a weekend on rue du Parc, a few blocks south of Prince Arthur. I can't imagine that Tezeta would of been able to distract me from the cold (5 cups of sake certainly couldn't do it), but I'd definately give it a try.

Posted by JDS at January 17, 2006 2:48 PM

beautiful piece of writing about camera obscura.

Posted by jez at January 17, 2006 4:59 PM

I absolutely loved your story about the man and his companion at the concert. You have a way to bring me where your story is. Love it and you!

Posted by (Aunty) Debbie at January 17, 2006 5:04 PM

I am so glad they played "books written for girls" it is one of my favorite tracks, one of those that just... kills and beautifies at the same time. And lovely story about the song too, thank you.

Posted by esther at January 17, 2006 7:16 PM

Tezeta (Nostalgia) is amazing... I have goosebumps. Thank you.

Posted by A to the K at January 17, 2006 8:15 PM

Such a fantastic review of the Camera Obscura song and show! I don't think I can add much to what has already been said about your writing. only, thank you!

Posted by Dylan at January 17, 2006 10:35 PM

I don't think that a blog has ever brought me so close to tears(of joy, hope,sadness..) as yours did tonight with that camera obscura story. I've been reading for a while, congratualtions on an exceptional piece!

Posted by Michael at January 17, 2006 10:52 PM

You are all being much, much too kind to my string of words bashed out at 1 in the morning. But: thank-you.

Posted by Sean at January 18, 2006 3:15 AM

what a great story.

Posted by jim at January 18, 2006 8:32 PM

wow....I haven't been a reader of this blog for very long and I must say that your writing stands out so incredibly. what gems.

Posted by Suzanna at January 18, 2006 9:13 PM

Great narrative on the Camera Obscura story. Fantastic.

Posted by SeanbutnotSean at January 19, 2006 2:01 AM

awww that was lovely. and it was lovely! what a great night. and that guy was ace, even if he did scare me a bit at first. did you stay for dancing? they played stars! and there was almost a fight on the dancefloor! crazy.

Posted by dahlin at January 19, 2006 7:13 PM

I came in search of ethiopian music and found this lovely little vignette, very nice. Makes me wish I was back in Scotland. No-one does hard bastards with beautiful soft hearts like the Scots.

Posted by Chris at January 31, 2006 3:30 AM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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our favourite blogs
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Coming Up For Air (Matt Forsythe)
my love for you is a stampede of horses
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st-viateur bagel
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drawn + quarterly
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blue skies turn black
montreal improv theatre
passovah productions
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Cult Montreal
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