What Ryan Adams’ songs mean to me, part one: So Alive

This song does such a great job of reminding me that I am alive.  Not only because it is inferred from the title, or even due to it being one of the more anthemic Ryan Adams tracks in his catalogue.  So Alive is brilliant at reminding me that I am alive because it is one of those songs that, when it is finished, I immediately have to fish into my pocket for my phone so that I can skip back and listen to it again.  And anybody who has witnessed me walking to or from a particular location (for that is my primary reason for walking:  to get to or from somewhere) will attest that, if I am not reaching into my pocket for my phone, I pretty much resemble a mindless zombie with no awareness of what is happening around me.

Perhaps what I enjoy most about that moment of being alive, when you hit ‘back’ and the opening guitar chord blasts out through the earphones again, is the idea that passers-by probably think that I am reading an exciting text message or receiving another massively complimentary comment on the colour of my socks.  When little do they know that the reality is that I simply want to hear a rare uplifting song from this melancholic alt. Americana troubadour again, because I can never listen to So Alive just once.

Always on your side
I’m on your side
And so alive it isn’t real

So Alive isn’t the first song I heard by Ryan Adams.  It isn’t even the first Ryan Adams song that I loved or that I love the most.  But it is the song which made me fall in love with his music and sparked a fourteen year and twenty gig obsession.

Tuesday 25th November 2003 was the first time I saw Ryan Adams play live.  It was the first gig I would attend.  I still have the ticket and some cuttings of newspaper reviews in a scrappy old notebook alongside my own handwritten review of the night.  My piece is overly sarcastic and lacking in depth.  Thankfully I have matured out of that habit.


I don’t remember a great deal about the performance.  I was young – barely twenty – and had enjoyed some Jack Daniels, whilst my enthusiastic scrawling suggests that everything he and his band played that night was the best thing ever.  But it is So Alive that truly left a lasting impression.  Rock N Roll had been released barely weeks before the tour and this would be the final song of the night.  It was delivered with an energy and a passion that still resonates today.  I can remember him perched on a speaker at the front of the stage bellowing these words with every ounce of his being.  Probably with a bottle of wine in hand, such was the Ryan Adams of the early 2000’s.  I knew immediately that he would be my favourite musician and that I would see him again and again.

The next time I saw Ryan Adams perform – in Liverpool in January 2004 – he played So Alive early in the set, it wasn’t nearly as impactful, and towards the end of the show he would fall from the stage and break his wrist.  He wouldn’t tour again until sometime in 2005.

I was already hooked, however, and like that ridiculously big falsetto in the chorus my appreciation of this song goes on and on.

Album:  Rock N Roll
Album release:  4th November 2003

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The day the Aussies came to the soccer

Here is what I know about Aussie rules football:

 

What follows is what I know about Aussies who rule going to the football.

Saturday was a remarkable day at Celtic Park for a multitude of reasons.  The stadium was bathed in a warm glow reminiscent of sunshine for what was probably the first time since September and the atmosphere inside it was one of the best of the season, with a large buoyant crowd still celebrating last weekend’s title win.  There were tops off in the standing section, a catchy new song in honour of Brendan Rodgers set to the tune of ‘This is How It Feels’ by Inspiral Carpets and a pitch invader who was captured and escorted off the park and past the Kilmarnock fans just in time to goad them as Celtic scored their second goal.  It was everything you could ask for from a day at the football.

The tone of the day could have been dramatically different following a near catastrophic incident in our first bar of the day, The Avalon, at Charing Cross.  An eager labrador dog went bounding out of the door and onto a busy road in a single-minded pursuit of his favourite ball, very narrowly avoiding the onrushing traffic.  It was dramatic, and almost as troubling as the fact that all of the good beers on tap were out of stock, leaving me with little option but to have a pint of Tennents.  Fortunately it wasn’t entirely terrible and the day got off to a good start.

Going to the game with three other people – let alone two of them being Australian – was an entirely different proposition to every other Saturday this season spent trying to translate the Northern Irish dude next to me or considering the fashion choices in the row ahead of me.  Perched high up in the Lisbon Lions Stand we set ourselves the goal of having our chant enthusiastically repeated around us – partly in celebration of our hero Tom Rogic, and partly because it was really cool.  Unfortunately there was little appetite for it, ie. nobody joined in, but “let me hear you say aaaaayyoooo” did go on to become a triumphant team at the pub quiz the following night.


The walk back from Celtic Park through the Gallowgate to the city centre is one which probably doesn’t feature in any sensible travel guide, but it does offer a unique insight into a certain element of Glasgow’s culture through its clutch of colourful bars.  Amongst the first of those approached along the route is Brendan’s, which has a larger interior than appears from the street and has taken the novel approach of disregarding all elements of furniture and has instead lined wooden pallets up along each of the walls.  They employed a shameless marketing technique of sending an attractive female around the bar with a tray of sourz, offering them to gullible men at £2 a shot.  It is a tacky marketing gimmick aimed at those who are easily swayed by a dazzling smile and a bit of conversation.  Though the apple flavour did prove quite delicious.

Despite the ball traveling under the crossbar more often than over it and the questionable ability to take a physical challenge of professional footballers I reckon this was a fine introduction to the football going experience.

Aaaaayyooooo.

Final scores:
Celtic 3-1 Kilmarnock
Scotland 2-2 Australia

The night that was a damp squib


The phrase “such and such turned into a real damp squib” has always given me a lot of trouble, not least because I was never aware of what a squib actually is, which in turn lended to my natural instinct to determine that the saying must be referring to a damp squid.  That never sat kindly with my common sense, though:  why would a damp squid be a disappointing anti-climax to anyone?  The squid is a sea dwelling creature, of course it is damp!  It would surely take a real fool to expect anything else.

It turns out that a squib is a short, often cylindrical, firework.  If one of those becomes damp, and your sizzle transpires into little more than a pfffffloppp, disappointment is likely to be chief amongst your emotions.  Hence such and such turning into a real damp squib rather than a damp squid.  Thank you, Google, for finally resolving thirty-three years of literary confusion.

Hindsight, I have learned recently, is a marvellous and frustrating tool of the human mind.  When utilising it now I can acknowledge that I really couldn’t have expected anything more from last night than the wettest of damp squibs.  The real sizzle and sparkle had occurred earlier and Celtic had won the Scottish Premiership title for the sixth consecutive season on Sunday; this fixture against Partick Thistle was never going to be of any significance.  But I had booked this time off work in January and, more than anything, I needed some time out of my own head.  I was looking forward to this night.

A landslip outside Glasgow on Tuesday threw my travel plans into a mild disarray, with trains from Oban being forced to stop at Crianlarich, where buses would commute the remainder of the distance.  Dual modes of transport are rarely enjoyable, especially when the bus from Crianlarich to Glasgow was much more dry than the squib this day was becoming.  I was, though, offered a brief glimpse into how it must feel to be Clark Kent when I returned from a poorly timed toilet break as the train was approaching the station and everyone was dashing off to meet the bus.  I combed my way through the throngs of people and made it back to my table, the last man on the train, and began gathering up my belongings when I noticed that the elderly gentleman who had been sitting opposite me had left his plastic railcard wallet on the table.  I jammed it into my coat pocket, returned The Smiths to my earphones and left the train, hoping that I might encounter this man along the way.

I clambered onto the spacious coach and took a seat near the back, eyeballing every passenger along the way.  No sign of the old man; he probably got onto the other bus, I thought.  Then minutes before departure he appeared.  He used his crutch to slowly amble up the aisle and I anxiously reached into my pocket for the wallet, a small part of me paranoid that I could be accused of theft.  As he neared I stood up, but he greeted me first and said that he thought he might have left his tickets on the table.  “I picked them up!”  I exclaimed, and there was an audible ‘awwww’ from a couple of the seats around me as I returned the wallet to him.  “I’m in your debt,” he said – but little did he know that an hour previously I was cursing him for having the temerity to sit opposite me on the train.  It felt like we were even.


There were a few notable observations to be made inside Celtic Park, aside from the goal both teams scored in the second-half.  Perhaps the most striking was the man, probably aged in his late fifties and definitely dressed in the 1967 European Cup final replica strip, who decided to get up out of his seat minutes before half-time, moved to stand in the aisle and turned to face the Partick Thistle fans at the opposite end of the ground before blessing himself and flicking them the V’s.  I couldn’t understand the gesture.  I mean, I understand what making that two-fingered salute means, but I cannot fathom the need to bless himself before doing it.  Was he trying to insist that, in this period of Lent particularly, Jesus was telling the Partick Thistle support to fuck off through the vessel of this man’s body?  Or was the blessing an attempt at absolving himself of any judgment from a higher power for his silly behaviour?

While the action on the field wasn’t especially eye-catching, my eyes did happen to catch sight of the most beautiful steward I have ever seen.  I spent a good bit of time contemplating her existence and came to the conclusion that not only was she the most beautiful steward I have ever seen, but she was also the only beautiful steward I have ever seen.  I lost a great deal of focus on the football as I tried to imagine scenarios where I could approach her and convince her that spending time with me wouldn’t be a complete waste of her time.  I recited a wealth of lines in my inner monologue, but they were proving more terrible than the quality of football on the pitch behind her:

 

  • “Excuse me, I have a medical emergency.  I think someone may have stolen my heart.”
  • “I think I’m lost, I can’t find my seat.  I’m supposed to be in section UR PANTS/HEART.”  (This would have required a last moment judgment call as to which is more appropriate.)
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but it’s your eyes that really sparkle.”
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but it’s your body which caught my eye.”
  • “I’m in row L for ‘linguine’.  Fancy going for an Italian after the match?”
  • “I’m all about making those safe exits.”
  • “I can’t tell if I have an irregular heartbeat or if it’s just you/or am I just horny?”  (Again, probably better to delete as appropriate.)
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but do you see a future for me?”
  • “As a steward I feel I should inform you of the men smoking cigarettes in the toilets, but instead I’m going to inform you that you are smoking hot behind the goal.”
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, which should be useful when you’re looking for it on the floor of room 423 of the Travelodge later.”

There was a change of stewards midway through the second-half and I never did get the opportunity to add the most beautiful steward ever to my growing list of failed flirtations.  Instead my thoughts were forced to turn to the floppy grey-haired guy who sometimes wears red jeans sitting in the row in front of me.  Often he can be seen rolling cigarettes during the match, but last night he spent much of the game sucking on a lollypop.  He had that lollypop in his mouth for so long that I surmised that he either really likes hard candy or he is trying to give up smoking.  Either way I was impressed with his resistance to the urge to bite, particularly during what turned out to be a bit of a frustrating evening.

Walking back into the city centre following a score draw at Celtic Park this season has been a rarity, and on a deceptively cold April night it was a bracing experience.  The ideal conditions for a damp squid, maybe, but not so much on a night which had already become a damp squib.

Final scores:
Celtic 1-1 Partick Thistle
JJ 0-1 damp squibs

A day in the life of a mango


I have long had an affection for the mango.  I love the way the word sounds and I enjoy how the fruit tastes.  If anything defies the popular belief that something that tastes so sweet and delicious can’t possibly be good for you, it is the mango.

My admiration for the tasty tropical treat is such that I once considered attempting to update William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet by replacing the character Romeo with a mango.  When I think back on that now it seems like a really bold and unnecessary gesture, but at the time it felt like it had reason.  What love can be more forbidden than that of a girl for a juicy stone fruit?

The way I viewed it, introducing the mango as Juliet’s love interest would have saved a significant amount of heartache and death.  While Juliet’s family might have struggled to come to terms with the reasons why she would become involved in a romantic relationship with a mango, you would feel certain that they wouldn’t wish death upon the mango, or indeed the tree it fell from.

The underlying theme of love conquering all in the story would still exist, and would perhaps even be enhanced by the boundaries between humans and fruit being challenged by Juliet and the mango.  However, I really struggled to come up with believable dialogue for the mango and this new version remains unwritten.

I still find myself wondering if mangoes are capable of having feelings.  It would be all too easy to enjoy a fleeting moment of delight with a mango, consume it and forget all about it as you return to your daily routine, but I can’t help but believe they are sensitive deep beneath that soft peel.  After all, if you have mishandled them they will bruise just like any person, so why wouldn’t they experience emotion?


Whether the mango has a full range of emotions is open to question.  I have often tried making witty observations in their company and have never received so much as a chortle in response, which may suggest that the mango doesn’t have a sense of humour – although I have frequently experienced this in the presence of people, too.  Though it is difficult to imagine that something so bright and beautiful isn’t capable of some form of joy, particularly when it brings such pleasure to others.

There is nothing to suggest that mangoes can contemplate the intricacies of Brexit (but then who can?) or that they would have the ability to weigh up the pros and cons of making a selection on Netflix (again, who can?) but I am convinced that they could appreciate Keats or Whitman, I believe that they can suffer the disappointment of being discarded in favour of a more fashionable fruit like papaya and I would be astonished if the mango isn’t aware of a desire to be wanted, like the character in the updated version of Romeo and Juliet.

So the next time you see a mango, savour its sweet scent and enjoy touching its tender skin, but remember that sometimes mangoes have feelings too.