Fall music suggestions and a chateau for sale
Recommended reading and listening for your weekend
As I usually end up doing in the fall, I’ve been listening to a lot of music from the British and Irish folk and folk-rock scene of the 1960s and ‘70s. Here’s a playlist I made of revivalist ballads — no originals, though the renditions run the gamut from traditional to psych-folk jams. (I’ve already linked to one fall playlist, but let me indulge myself.)
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I started getting into this stuff a few years ago, after hearing Sandy Denny’s incredibly beautiful “False Bride,” from 1967, and falling in love with her voice. Denny, a former nurse, started singing on England’s folk-club circuit in the mid-1960s; she rose to become the leading vocalist of English folk-rock music — no mean feat in a staggering generation of talent that also included Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins, June Tabor, and Maddy Prior. She died in 1978, apparently from a fall, after struggling with alcohol addiction.
I tend to associate Denny with fall, maybe because her favorite themes as a songwriter were passing time, changing seasons, and growing darkness. Though the seasonally appropriate original here is “Late November,” my favorite Sandy song is the gorgeous, bitter “Blackwaterside” she recorded live at the Paris Theatre for the BBC in 1972, which can be listened to at 16:25 below. It’s the story of a woman seduced and discarded by an man she meets on the banks of the River Blackwater:
This recording isn’t available on streaming anywhere (though the entire BBC Sessions album is widely available online if you know how to look), but a heavier, no less stunning “Blackwaterside,” appears on her solo album North Star Grassman and the Ravens, the only traditional song on a album of mostly Sandy originals.
Many people have heard an instrumental version of “Blackwaterside” thanks to Led Zeppelin, whose “Black Mountain Side” is generally understood to be Jimmy Page’s attempt to copy the “Blackwaterside” of Sandy Denny’s friend Bert Jansch. Jansch, who died in 2011, was a Scottish musician who led the folk-rock band Pentangle and released several beautiful solo albums (my favorite is L.A. Turnaround). He was an astonishing fingerstyle guitarist, as you can see in this clip of him singing “Blackwaterside” on Norwegian TV in 1973:
Jansch himself was taught “Blackwaterside” by his friend and frequent collaborator Anne Briggs, who might have been the most gifted of the folk singers of her generation — she was certainly the one of whom her peers were in the most awe. Briggs, discovered at age 18 by Ewan MacColl, spent a wild decade touring England and Ireland, recording two albums before moving to the Hebrides and essentially retiring, supposedly because she didn’t like the sound of her voice on record. Here she is, coaxed out of semi-retirement by Jansch in 1992 to sing “Blackwaterside” with him for the documentary Acoustic Routes. Anne complains that living off the northern coast has wrecked her voice, but the performance is nonetheless beautiful and affecting:
Briggs herself learned “Blackwaterside” from BBC recordings of three Irish travelers, Mary Doran, Paddy Doran, and Winnie Ryan. Paddy Doran’s “Blackwaterside” — a different variant from the one Briggs and Jansch would popularize — is available on the compilation The Flax in Bloom, along with other songs from Mary (his wife) and Winnie. Briggs’s Topic, which opens with “Blackwater Side” and features an incredible “Willie O Winsbury,” is a masterpiece.
Time and the world were unkind to many of the great talents of the 1960s English folk explosion. Shirley Collins, a singer who may ultimately have been even more talented than Briggs or Denny, fronted the Albion Band and recorded albums alone and with her sister Dolly through the 1960s and 1970s, then lost her voice and stopped making music for nearly four decades, working at the British Library (among other places) to get by. This summer she released a beautiful new EP, Crowlink, following up two other albums of new material from 2016 and 2020, respectively. On Crowlink, she speak-sings over synth washes and drones and field recordings. Her voice isn’t what it was. It’s wonderful.
If you like this stuff, I really highly recommend the fan site Mainly Norfolk, a wonderfully comprehensive resource with pages for folk artists; albums; and, best of all, individual songs, which list all the recorded versions you can find, plus notes. Here’s the page for “Blackwaterside.” There’s also a great book called Electric Eden that covers the British folk-rock scene from which Denny and Jansch and Briggs and Collins emerged, and continues it through to Kate Bush and Talk Talk. Even better, there’s a 1,090-song playlist covering everything referred to in the book.
Who stole the “Irish Crown Jewels” in 1907? This story has everything you want: Dutch jewel fences, Irish Republican executions, a safe too big to fit through a door, Ernest Shackleton’s gay brother, and more.
Here is a Twitter thread about a guy making “garum,” or “liquamen,” an ancient Mediterranean fish sauce formed from self-liquified sardines.
For more information about garum I recommend you check out this article about it the Encyclopaedia Romana, one of the remaining treasures of the old web, lovingly maintained by the retired UCSF researcher (librarian?) James Grout. Writes Grout:
Seneca is contemptuous even of the best garum sociorum. "What? Do you not think that the so-called 'Sauce from the Provinces,' the costly extract of poisonous fish, burns up the stomach with its salted putrefaction" (Epistles, XCV.25), the belchings of those who consume it disgusting themselves with the smell the next day.
More of Grout’s charming and well-researched articles from the Encyclopaedia Romana can be read here.
This beautiful medieval chateau in the south of France costs about as much as a fixer-upper brownstone in New York. I like that the current owners seem to use the staircase bannister as a hat rack:
If that’s too rich for your blood, here’s a 17th-century chateau, not too far from Bordeaux, that you can have for about the price of a two-bedroom apartment in northern Brooklyn. It’s less charming than the first one, but I like the entry staircase:
(N.b. if any stupidly rich subscribers buy any of these chateaux you are legally obligated to let me chateau-sit for a month every summer.)
My own work has focused on how Dune’s fetishisation of training and human potential anticipates neoliberalism’s transformation of human beings into human capital, to be managed and developed to maximise return on investment. Paul is one of the first superheroes whose powers turn on speculation and preemption: rather than being fantastically strong and powerful like Superman, he uses his prescience and minutely trained senses to invest the minimum force to the precise points where it will have maximum effect. He is the hero as arbitrageur, a warrior in the mode of Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’.
At Vulture, Roxana Hadidi diagnoses Dune with “a desert problem” — the best piece I’ve read about the book and the movie’s respective depictions of the clearly Muslim world of Arrakis:
Is Herbert’s text Orientalist? Opinions on that vary among Dune scholars. For Karjoo-Ravary, who notes that Fremen are not the only characters to engage in a jihad in the novel, “Herbert is a product of his context [who] thought about cultures and religions in particular ways, but it is more complicated than other forms of Orientalism.” Gaylard gives Herbert even more credit, writing in his essay that Dune preemptively addresses the concerns of cultural critic Edward Said by complicating the “white savior” figure that some assume Paul to be — and that David Lynch’s 1984 film mistakenly presented Paul as.
“What is clear is that Herbert was far more comfortable with the overt Islamic and Arabic tones of his work than its mainstream reception over the decades,” Karjoo-Ravary adds.
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