A nihilistic love letter to the lyrics of Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett, written in the time of COVID-19

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Still from the official Avant Gardener video.

There are hardly any cars on the road but the pavement is gridlocked with new joggers. Our homes have become prisons and the city is a giant exercise yard. We’re a month into lockdown. I’m driving to the supermarket, which is normal. But the idea of grocery shopping makes my chest feel tight, which isn’t. Down a side street there are two ambulances outside an average semi-detached house. The paramedics are in full hazmat gear, but this isn’t Salisbury. It might have been a fall. It might have been a heart attack. It’s being treated like a state-sponsored Polonium poisoning.

It’s a Monday, it’s so mundane. …

A love letter to the lyrics of You’re Wondering Now, written by Clement Seymour and covered by The Specials.

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Photo taken by the author of this post.

October 1979. Margaret Thatcher and vinyl records are both enjoying high market share. The Specials release their eponymous first album. It is mostly a rocksteady study in anger and disenchantment, a reaction to inner cities being hollowed out and ordinary people being left behind.

Forty years later those are familiar feelings. With the benefit of four decades of hindsight, it is apparent that, back then, The Specials were not railing against the beginning of the end, but against the beginning of the beginning. …

A love letter to the lyrics of Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood

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Frankie Goes to Hollywood Relax Sex Mix Uncensored 12" Maxi FGTH by vinylmeister. Used under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0 license.


A love letter to a T-shirt slogan.

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(Very poor artist’s impression. Couldn’t find a Creative Commons image of the original.)

Frankie say relax.

Frankie say say.

Frankie say say, not says.

Most replicas and rip-offs of the original T-shirt don’t say say, they say says – FRANKIE SAYS RELAX. The copies can’t cope with the incongruity of say.

The dissonance of say jars your brain out of autopilot. It forces you to consciously confront its logic and therefore its meaning. Frankie is in the plural. Frankie is a they not a he.

So what does say say? Say says we. Say says us. Say says solidarity. Say says unanimity. Say says a lot.

Frankie wring (not wrings) a lot of meaning from a single word. …

A love letter to the lyrics of North, East, West, South by The Last Poets

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FMM 2008 — The Last Poets by Mário Pires. Used under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

You were that whirling dervish that baptised us
In the name of feeling good about ourselves

In the absence of prior warning it slowly dawns on you that North, East, West South is a tribute to Prince. Here is a generous poet paying homage to a genius musician. The words are sincere and exultant and they belong to Umar Bin Hassan. This post is my love letter to his love letter.

Hard core honky tonk of St Louis
Jimi Hendrix sounding and rebounding
The cool slick of Chicago bop
The suave and sexiness of Motown
The soft winds of a desert breeze
The horns, piano and drums
Feeling astronomical, intergalactic
The sound of sounds, charming snakes
The news, North, East, West, South. …

A love letter to the lyrics of We Are The Champions by Queen

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The statue of Freddie Mercury in Montreux by Liliana Fuchs. Used under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

We Are The Champions.

It is melodramatic and majestic.

It is perfectly glorious, and it is gloriously perfect.

It is scientifically proven to be one of the catchiest songs of all time.

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Nous sommes les champions

It is universal and it is timeless. Everyone sings it, everywhere, after every victory, great or small. When France won the 2018 World Cup final, I watched three generations of deliriously happy French people sing it, word-perfect, in English, in Annecy Football Stadium. Most of them would not have been born when the song was released. …

A love letter to the lyrics of Redemption Song by Bob Marley.

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Bob Marley Dublin Ireland Concert 6th July 1980 Dalymount Park by monosnaps. Used under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

They say you should write for one person, even if your objective is an audience of millions. But Bob Marley wrote Redemption Song for one people, and that worked too. It became a lyrical commons from the moment of its first performance. Redemption Song is a mutual society. Every listener is a part owner, whose royalties are paid in a curious combination of pathos and resolve. Redemption Song is a meditation on heart and mettle in the face of oppression. …

A love letter to the lyrics of Open Up by John Lydon and Leftfield.

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Still from the official video.

You’re very frank Clarice. I think it would be quite something to know you in private life.

So says serial killer Hannibal Lecter to FBI Agent Clarice Starling in The Silence Of The Lambs. Lecter’s appreciation of Starling’s forthrightness is extreme. He is visibly nourished by her sincerity. It is disturbing. But the audience feels it too. We are just as transfixed by her testimony as Lecter. Frankness is an uncommon and beguiling virtue. Candour begets charisma. When the intensely private undertaking of searching one’s soul is made public, it becomes an act of communion.

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Blissful communion.

Open up — make room for me. …

We’re making a documentary series to show that ordinary citizens can do politics better than politicians.

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Still from the series prologue, When Citizens Assemble.

Pilot film with important, timeous content seeks relationship with sympathetic backers for production and promotion of further episodes.

I’m helping to make a documentary series featuring outbreaks of true democracy; instances where political power truly is in the hands of the people. These films will show that ordinary citizens, properly informed, in a conducive environment for debate and deliberation, give good governance.

The pilot film, based on the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, and its deliberations on the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution (a de facto ban on abortion) is embedded below.

The project is the brainchild and lovechild of my friend Patrick, who is a political journalist, journalism lecturer and author of Fraudcast News (How bad journalism supports our bogus democracies.) …

A love letter to the lyrics of Pale Blue Eyes by The Velvet Underground.

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Bergen, Norway 10/03/2012 by David Jones. Used under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Linger on your pale blue eyes.

Pale Blue Eyes makes this sound like a run of the mill love song. It isn’t. The operative words in each chorus relate not to eye colour but to plaintive resignation. Lou Reed wistfully lingers on ‘linger on’ each time he sings it. Imagine him burning down a quarter cigarette in a single draw and singing through the exhalation.

It is a love song. Just not that kind.

Sometimes I feel so happy. Sometimes I feel so sad. Sometimes I feel so happy, but mostly you just make me mad. …

A love letter to the lyrics of Express Yourself by N.W.A.

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Graffiti on wall: N.W.A. logo by LetećiVale. Used under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 license.

I’m expressing with my full capabilities
And now I’m living in correctional facilities
Cause some don’t agree with how I do this
I get straight and meditate like a Buddhist.

No gangster bravado, no swearing, no male chauvinism, no N word, no law enforcement antipathy, only one gun mention, and all the drug references are anti. No street knowledge required. If a middle class English white guy is going to take on the lyrics of the one-time world’s most dangerous group, this territory is as safe as it’s going to get.

Express Yourself!

It’s a call to arms. An exhortation to proclaim, to testify. And what follows is a lyrical joy ride — outrageous rhymes, ingenious word play, free association, and crazily evocative metaphors. It feels effortless. But it isn’t. Clearly it isn’t. It’s insanely difficult. You have to be insanely good to make it seem so easy. And that’s the message of the song. …


Phil Adams

Exec Producer for All Hands On documentary series. Co-editor of A Longing Look (Medium). Chair of Puppet Animation Scotland. Founder of I Know Some People Ltd.

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