The Yellow Book and Aubrey Beardsley


Speaking of elusive, I don’t fully understand Twitter, but one aspect that eludes me completely is how tweets you have seen maybe half an hour ago have suddenly completely disappeared when you go back to find them.

You scroll down and through for what seems like forever, and cannot find again. In that scrolling, you keep coming across other tweets you recall seeing with the one you are searching for, but these are now punctuated by millions of others.

I have gone in and selected whatever options seem to secure some semblance of sanity in desiring a chronological feed, but that fails.

This is a lead in to the fact that this morning I was prompted to this piece on Aubrey Beardsley and I wanted to acknowledge the tweet that did this, but, as you now know, I cannot find.

I was also prompted by the reference in the article to the yellow book/Yellow Book to find my original copy of the latter and look at the Beardsley prints in it, none as ‘provocative’ as those referenced in the article. The following pictures are simply provided to illustrate treasures from this book, one I acquired around 45 years ago from an auction in Aldebugh,



Further pictures are for extra interest. At the end of the book’s articles and illustrations are adverts from publishing houses and these are interesting in themselves, especially as a reflection of their time, but there is a self-indulgence in this as I also have a book published by Cambridge University Press,


I liked the moral tone of this advertisement,


This amused in its ‘concrete’ presentation,



Walrus and Seal Pup

P1020322 - Copy

Carved from the sea’s storm and beached
like sleep and waking. They are two of
thirty three and feather-footed even in this
burnish of gold; how the tusks of one point
to its O of a stomach filled with seal skin
and attachments – pinniped as Latin for fin
footed, not family, yet here they are together.

The rest are corpses and driftwood, remind
us of how wooden hardened hearts are to
one another. It either is or is what we want
to see, like how to place ourselves in this
clade of carnivores when we walk by with
our arms in arms and smiling, a nod to extant
families, and loudly applauding our humanity.

History Lesson

[Originally posted April 2012, and linked to the preceding post]


At the beginning of the 90s I’d been teaching for ten years and these were good professional times: independent, creative, fulfilling. I wasn’t financially comfortable, and there had been struggles in the previous decade, but I was three years into a mortgage [a principle shattered as I readily grabbed at Thatcher’s legacy of offering the cheap chance to buy a council house, mine having been rented as teacher accommodation] and there was plenty of 60s/70s music to keep me fully entertained as I’d moved up from the Amstrad stereo [though it did have that thundering volume boost button] to a Toshiba system – I think the Kenwood was later, and I now have Cambridge: these listening stepping-stones a critical aspect of the aural journey.


So this was neither exceptional nor terrible in the life and times of a 36 approaching 40 year old English teacher and father of two whose loves were family, teaching [at that time], writing and music, but with regard to the latter where I’d primarily mainlined on nostalgia, bands like Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, Brad, Alice in Chains and, to a lesser extent in terms of familiarity at the time, Soundgarden, all kick-started that new decade with their heavy albeit newly-named grunge sound, and it is clearly the quality of this music coupled with a rather amorphous other emotive reality that turbo-charged this launch. In my previous posting on Brad I also mentioned The Black Crowes who brought out the classic rock revival of Shake Your Money Maker in 1990, therefore joining this rejuvenating mix, and there were other bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Screaming Trees filling and exploding my 80s void. Students at the time were making me cassette tapes of these new bands – it’s how I first heard Temple of the Dog – and a close friend was also regularly introducing me to these contemporary musical riches: pulling one from the abundant offerings would be Mark Lanegan’s 1994 solo album Whiskey for the Holy Ghost.


All of these bands had great rock/grunge vocalists and that did much to attract and appeal. The centrality of the guitar with wah-wah and/or fuzzed and/or extended solo also returned to detox the 80s’ contamination. Highlights from some of the bands mentioned would be all of Pearl Jam’s Ten [already a nailed-to-the-wall Top Fifty], Temple of the Dog’s Hunger Strike with Eddie Vedder taking over the lead vocal from also excellent and accompanying Chris Cornell, and consummate grunge anthem Rooster from Alice in Chain’s monster album Dirt. Brad’s generally softer sound, reviewed as such yesterday, earned its distinct placing but was also carried on the back of the overall sense of musical renewal linked to the palpable if inexplicably generated feelings I had at the time.


Top Fifty 17: Brad – Shame, 1993

[Originally posted April 2012]


Brad, a band formed in 1992 and including the core members of Shawn Smith, Stone Gossard and Regan Hagar, has just released their latest album United We Stand, only the fifth over their twenty years of playing together. A band often described as a Stone Gossard [Pearl Jam] side project, this is a typical PR but erroneous tag.

Their first album Shame earns its place in my Top Fifty because of its musical timing and triggering of significant memory. Brad in the early 90s – along with The Black Crowes [straight rock], Temple of the Dog, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam [grunge] – ignited my full engagement with contemporary music because it revisited and reinvigorated the 60/70s rock sound with which I had grown up and which the 80s had by and large replaced with synth-pop, fake drumming and glam/new romantic tweakings [I admit I should/could have taken more note of punk].

Whilst Gossard provides crisp guitar throughout, it is Smith’s distinctive vocals that make this album memorable for me – all four band members contributing to songwriting duties. And though I have characterised this as a resurgent rock band, opening track Buttercup is actually a rather slow ballad and establishes the sound that makes this such a fine album, Smith’s fragile vocal dominating the plaintive core and Goddard’s guitar striking out rising chords. Second track My Fingers is much more psychedelic with echoing, slightly fuzzed vocal and swirling guitar around a grunge drum and bass beat.

Third Nadine returns to the more melancholic tone of the first, Smith by now establishing his signature slight snarl and cracked high tenor, and the song’s rather sudden, lightly shambolic ending reflects the rawness of the album’s recordings completed over only 20 days and often emerging, apparently, from studio jam sessions. Fourth Screen continues the hypnotic lament and Goddard adds a softly toned guitar solo and then empathetic wails to close.

20th Century is a funky fifth, rolled out across its repeated grooves, simply but effectively. Next Good News, like Screen, is a Smith-penned number and continues the propensity for these slower songs with carefully structured melodies to foreground Smith’s singing, here pushing to a falsetto chorus. Seventh Raise Love is a pulsating grunge-come-softrock anthem with surges of Goddard feedbacked lead.  Eighth Bad For The Soul is a funked-up tease of a song – no doubt a snippet from one of those jams – but it sets us up neatly for the penultimate Down which is a classic [but incipient here] grunge dirge, the voice distorted with other percussive sound effects until piano, organ and a cleaned vocal emerge – then it segues into and finishes on a grotesque, brutish narrative that is the unnerving, fleeting track eleven We.

It isn’t an album in and of its time as brilliantly dominant as Pearl Jam’s Ten for example – not by a long way to be candid – and I’m not sure I have been able to characterise its particular strengths through the track descriptions above, so it may be one of the few in this category that really does hold its place by the skin of its clinging teeth, a bite that still draws blood from a mood and effect it created then for all kinds of reasons beyond the aural and which therefore bleeds whenever I play again.


Recent Brad


The Fugs – the fugs final cd [part 1] – 2003

[Originally posted April 2012: not a Top Fifty, but linked to the previous here which is]


Poignant Yodel

Arrived today and now plays, more of the political [Government Surveillance Yodel] and puerile [Septuagenarian in Love], set to country-tinged harmonies or rock’n’roll parodies, there is ironic wisdom in the humour, for example this sage advice from a band whose core members Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg will have obliterated so many personal bridges in their irreverent lifetime,

Don’t burn a bridge that you’re standing on
Never try to sleep down a burning bank
Don’t try to cling upon a burning plank.

Context is everything, and when you know these lines actually follow

Oh isn’t it true that sometimes
the river is more beautiful
when the bridge is gone

you realise the satire is tinged with real regret as well as silliness. As these hippies rage in their old age the compromise is embraced in the song’s chorus

Mix prudence with my ashes;
Write caution on my urn,
While life foams and flashes,
Burn, bridges, burn.

It’s not an abnegation of the past but an awareness of the present where death is the biggest joke of all, and it is the banal and mundane that drives us to the grave as well as the bigger issues,

Please can I have my job back?
Burn, bridges, burn
I don’t want a divorce, after all
Burn, bridges, burn
I’d like a security clearance, please forget my past
Burn, bridges, burn
I’d like to rent the same apartment, I know I trashed it last year, but
Burn, bridges, burn

[Burn, Bridges, Burn]

And just when you might think The Fugs really have regressed to a primary concern for the domestic, they come up with an absolutely gorgeous song that reminds us of those bigger issues, and the ultimate purpose and power of the yodel,

It’s time to think
of ultimate things
– yodel
what will happen to the soul?
what will happen to the soul?

[Ultimate Things]

Another beautiful song is A Western Ballad – For Allen Ginsberg [by band member Steve Taylor with echoes of both Arlo Guthrie and Roy Harper], its potent and political poetry set to a gorgeous tune, and this is what The Fugs can merge so well: meaning with melody.

There’s the wonderfully witty too: getting there with A Short History Of The Human Race and its three core lines,

World War 1: The human race stinks
World War 2: The human race shrinks
World War 3: The human race extincts

and is fully realised with IS, where Bill Clinton’s ‘apothegm’ is captured as a soundgrab to be sampled within the song playfully, set up for its first ridiculing by the lines,

Get ready, Mr. Nietzsche Get Ready, Kierkegaard
Stand down, Mr. Hegel, and Bertrand Russell too
‘cause someone has come up with a homily
that’s sharper than Plato and Wiittgenstein
& shivering with truth

It depends on what the meaning of the word IS is

It’s all good fun [in the album booklet’s introduction and description of the songs, it is acknowledged that Clinton was ‘unfairly hounded by an interlocking geek-pack of right wing nuts throughout his presidency’] so the attacking is assuaged by understanding and explanation rather than any outright contempt – the kind of contempt allowed for rebelling youth and revolutionaries, not senior citizens even with attitude.

It’s not therefore the caustic comedy of early Fugs nor the polished pillorying of it crawled into my hand….., but it is still the brilliance of social and political commentary coupled with clever songcraft, now tempered by the maturity of age and perhaps knowing that raging against it all doesn’t stop it coming.



Snow Carcass


Lost, fallen and alone – this snow died.
Thinking no one would care, it became
a carcass, desiring the innate sympathies
people have for the death of an animal
even if their own kind can matter so much
less. Here is its shape of living, an outline
where the hollow look will elicit concern.

There is the other question of its last gasp –
was it running when it fell, exhausted and
somehow scared? This does not register in
the dead grass shooting through its side or
blood of the soil. Yet it is an animal, too big
for petting, but still clean and white and soft
and tugging at whatever strings will melt.

[picture by artist and photographer Nick Dormand]