There are people who feel nothing when they read. There are people who do not see images in their minds’ eye; people for whom the very notion of ‘the minds’ eye’ is baffling. I load no judgement in those statements, but more than two decades of teaching have taught me that they are true. Instead I share the observation mainly to point out the difficulty, and, some might say, pointlessness of trying to explain the (for me) essential experience of listening to records. There is a distinct probability that if you are reading this at all then of course you are on broadly the same wavelength. You are in my (very, very small) echo chamber. For those who may not be, well, I can think of few ways of explaining the reasons for my record listening than by listening to this record:
It’s all there. Minor details are different (I was never remotely dumpy and was never a Goth), but essentially, this is it. This is how it feels. This is why it is important to me.
Now I have long felt Jof Owen, who leads the grandly (and sweetly, knowingly ironic) titled Legends of Country, to be a kindred spirit. When I was running my Tangents webzine (remember when we used that word? Remember when it felt like a word that was a harbinger of a bright, positive new age of enlightenment?) Jof sent me his first 7” singles as The Boy Least Likely To and they simply thrilled me with their infectious, sublimely sweet Pop instincts wrapped in a DIY suburban aesthetic. Later he wore one of my record labels’ Pipettes badges in a Boy Least Likely To video and that warmed my heart no end. Connections are what counts. Later still I heard Terry Wogan play one of his songs on the morning radio as my friend Emma gave me a lift into school. It was a delicious conflation of memory and moment, of then and now and forever, for Wogan was the voice of mornings in our house as we got ready for school and here he was again as I drifted through my own forties and he was playing my kind of music. Our kind of music. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I listen to The Legends of Country either, so inevitably I do both. This is probably as it should be, for Country at its core is heart and soul. Country at its core is magnificently manipulative and transparently opaque. Country at its core knows the essential myth of authenticity and gleefully plays the myth for all it is worth. The Legends of Country know this. So do The Legends of Country. Of course they do. Of course they do.
To turn back on ourselves then, ‘Turn To Dolly’ then is the song that explains the appeal of songs; is the song that conjures the magic held inside the act of listening to records and of reading (comic) books. Of watching films both on screen and inside your head. ‘Turn To Dolly’ is the song that explains how it feels to be lonely; that explains the value of the connections we make to soothe ourselves and to make the days bearable. ‘Turn To Dolly’ is the song that acknowledges the essential value of those self-curated and created connections to our youthful years, and the way in which we revisit that centre at vital points throughout our lives. The energy held at that core may dwindle over time, but it can still surprise us with the its power to move. It can still make tears twinkle in the corners of our eyes.
We ‘Turn To Dolly’. Of course we do. Of course we do.
I turn to Rachel Duckhouse’s 'St Lawrence Flow 2' daily. Sometimes it is a glimpse in passing. At other times it is a prolonged pause, a feet-apart, leaning-in stare of intensity. Always it brings pleasure. It helps, of course, that the etching happens to hang in our dining room, above the array of Speyside whiskies and beside the chair from which my morning coffee is consumed.
Of course this is a terribly privileged middle-class thing to be saying, and this makes me sad mostly because really Art should be something we can all afford and enjoy. It ought not to be an investment opportunity or a luxury afforded to those who need not worry about where their next meal is coming from. Indeed there are arguments to be made that say the qualities provided by art (in its myriad forms and mediums) are as important to us in the ‘pyramid of need’ as shelter. That the reality of our society is so far removed from this ideal would be depressing if it were not so laughable.
There is a flicker of guilt in my daily enjoyment of ‘St Lawrence Flow 2’ then, but only the faintest, for whilst our purchases may perpetuate the capitalist structures our society is built on (or more accurately that it increasingly feels it is collapsing in on) then there is too the determination to operate as far outside of those systems as is feasibly possible (or, at least, as is physically comfortable, for which see the 2016 Unpopular Advent entry for day 11). Which means supporting artists as directly as possible, through systems as independent of corporate meddling as can be achieved. Conflict. Guilt. Contradictions. Wouldn’t life be dull without them?
There is conflict in ‘St Lawrence Flow 2’ too and this is surely one of the reasons I love it. In the ’St Lawrence Flow’ work Duckhouse takes the notion of organic wave forms and water flows and wraps them in a container that is forcibly, unflinchingly geometric. It is this contrast that makes the work so appealing. Indeed it is what appeals to me most about landscapes in general, for I admit that on the whole I am largely unmoved by the supposed grandeur and magnificence of nature. Often it is only when human intervention enters the picture that my interest is really piqued. Think electricity pylons marching down the Culm valley. Think concrete dams holding back Alpine rivers to create vast reservoirs. Think china-clay pits as photographed by Jem Southam and the attendant brutalist containers that once lined the road into Kingsteington. They no doubt line the road still, but, tragically, progress has since led to this industrial complex being by-passed and I admit I miss seeing those mounds of clay dust contained by angular forms and shadows in summer sun as I cycled past (not to mention the brilliant contrast of tanned legs against the white dusted road surface, but that’s another matter entirely).
‘St Lawrence Flow’ then puts me in mind of our ultimately vain yet magnificently vainglorious attempts to contain nature. It puts me in mind of harbour walls and managed water ways and this is all to the good. It reminds me too of experiments in Physics class with shallow plastic bowls of water. Refraction, reflection, interference and something or other. The magic of science laboriously hacked away to the mind-numbing facts. It looks beautiful, so who cares how it’s made? Who cares about understanding it? Can’t we just enjoy it? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Perhaps it is the same for art. Perhaps it is the same for ‘St Lawrence Flow 2’. As an Art teacher of course I understand how Duckhouse has made this etching. I even feign an understanding of the creative processes that may have led to the form the work has taken. But does this matter? Does this increase my enjoyment when looking into its depths? Of course not. Of course not.