Monday, 28 January 2013

Brighten the Corner ...


Had a small but pleasing moment today which I want to share.

After I had lunch at the local shopping centre (ooh, classy) in the area of North London where I work I had a few minutes before I had to return to business. "What's it to be?" I thought to myself. "A mooch in HMV?"  But as I a) couldn't remember whether it was still open, and b) couldn't imagine finding much of interest there anyway, I went instead into the shop known as Tiger, really just to waste some time.

If you don't know about this chain, Tiger is full of lots of little things which contain the promise of creativity, though in my case it's rarely followed through, as though on some level I've tricked myself into believing the act of acquisition is enough in itself: sad to report my flat is full of such empty promises.


Today I saw cheapo acrylic paints and brushes, little canvases and drawing pads, and idly thought of buying some, maybe actually painting the image which appears at the top of this blog, which might reduce the need to be tinkering with it all the time.

In the end I didn't buy any painting materials, although I did pick up a small notebook, more as a kind of distant nod to the possibility of doing some "real" writing, as opposed to wasting my time more or less agreeably online,  than out of any firm conviction that I would do so, that this - at last - was Day One of the rest of my life.

But that's not what I want to write about. As I was shopping, or browsing, Dion's Runaround Sue was playing and, not having heard it for a time, I was vaguely nodding along, happy to be hearing something other than the music which I couldn't recognise, and which wasn't for me, irritating my ears in the cafe where I had lately dined.

But then - get this - Dion having whooped his way to the fade, on came Paul Foster introducing the Soul Stirrers' Jesus Done Just What He Said, one of the songs recorded on Sam Cooke's very first Specialty session with the group in 1951 in glorious acapella. So whatever collection was playing wasn't just another identikit 50s collection. When I went to pay for the notebook, I eagerly asked the assistant who had compiled the playlist. She said it was random.

Oh.

I felt disappointed, having hoped to be told it was a company compilation or, ideally, to have someone pointed out to whom I could speak about the respective merits of Sam Cooke and Dion, on and on, as the sky, unnoticed outside, grew darker and it wouldn't matter.

But that wasn't going to happen.

Anyway, I felt impelled to tell her, as I was moving away, it brightened my day. Though I suppose if I had taken the time to be more of a smart*rse I could have said that it brightened the corner where I was, thinking about an Anthony Heilbut gospel compilation I own - which, as it happened, had an even earlier Soul Stirrers recording, from the days of RH Harris, the veteran of the circuit whom the young Cooke replaced.

I don't suppose it counts for all that much in the general scheme of things, but the unexpectedness of that conjunction: DiMucci and Cooke (or doo wop and gospel or Italian American and African American or any other other contrasts I may have missed) was a small but happy moment.

In Three Sisters, Chebutykin, the dopey doctor whose pockets are full of newspaper clippings (apparently there was an element of self-parody there) notes that Balzac was married in Berdichev. It may be that it's just a totally pointless bit of trivia seized on by the good doc but at least one critic has suggested that the doctor notes it because it suggests happiness is possible anywhere.

 And for a moment in a North London shopping centre I felt more alive. I suppose because it never occured to me that anyone near where I live would be interested in those recordings - and maybe they weren't. But some process of selection must have been involved even to get the Soul Stirrers on random.

Which reminds me of another occasion, already recorded in this blog, where hearing the voice of Sam Cooke meant a lot. It was presented as a diversion in a longer post, readable in full here, but it has been neatly cut out and dropped onto the blank space below:
Diversion: Believe me, I have cause to dislike muzak. About ten months into my security guard incarnation I learnt the One Great Truth which all guards must eventually come to know, and I can pass it on to you. It is this:


The well-known (now defunct) departmental store wherein I patrolled for two long months in the summer of 1986, having lost a cushier billet, had what felt like a customised form of torture (a kind of compliment, I suppose, like Hook's crocodile): a muzak ,or muzak-type, tape loop, which constantly played: not a problem if you were nipping in and out of the store; hell for one who could not, during working hours, get more than a few yards away from the source.
To add insult to aural injury, there was a kind of ersatz, vaguely bluesy, rocky track which promised at least the ghost of something - before subsiding into mush. Every time. And again and again over every working day.

The only brief respite to be found was in inching towards the record counter at certain moments. This was around the time that a Sam Cooke song was being used in a UK TV advert, and there was what may have been a newly issued tie-n EP of Cooke hits - at any rate, whenever those soft trumpets struck up I would shuffle towards the redemptive sound of Cupid, trying to time it so I'd be as near as possible to the speaker when Cooke, despite the sedateness of the pop setting, let forth with the word "Cry", recalling - for one uniformed erk at least, his gospel origins. There was consolation, exactly when needed. And that was the sound, brothers and sisters, that a man, working in a chain sto-o-ore, needed.

Diversion over.
Returning to the present, I have no more to say, except that here are those two recordings in case they brighten the corner where you are.





Link to a pdf of Heilbut's sleevenotes for Brighten the Corner ... here.
Some other posts about Sam Cooke here and here.

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