Blondie – One Word With a Lot to Say

Blondie_-_Parallel_Lines

Last week I wrote about two carefully chosen words – Weather Report.  This time I want to write about a single, carefully chosen word.

Blondie is the name of an American rock band fronted by Deborah Harry.  According to Rolling Stone magazineBlondie has sold in excess of forty million records over the course of a career starting in 1974.

For a single word, Blondie has a lot to say.  First, there is the biographical background it reveals.  After graduating with an arts degree in 1965, Deborah Ann Harry worked at BBC offices in New York, then as a waitress, a go-go dancer and as a Playboy Bunny.  I don’t know if young Deborah found herself called Blondie at the BBC, but in her waitressing and dancing jobs, this was how men often refered to her.

The first thing to note about the name Blondie is the “ie” ending.  This sound often denotes something small, insignificant, playful, charming, as in cutie or sweetie.  The linguist Otto Jespersen has suggested that the effect of ie is to convey a childlike quality. Children tend to add an ie sound – one of the easiest to produce – at the end of words as they begin to learn language.  As a child struggles to master the tricky business of talking, there seems to be a natural tendency to return to the security of something easily managed.  In this way, the ie sound is associated with children.

So Blondie has this suggestion of something cute and childlike.  Those characteristics then collide with the reality of Blondie as a hard-hitting rock band. Blondie now takes on a different nature.  There is something tough in the name, a denial of intimacy and individuality. It’s a generic nickname for fair-haired young women, which while starting all cutesy in the nursery, has now taken us into seedy bars and clubs where superficial adult relationships are playing out. Someone called Blondie is not receiving respect for herself as a person.  At the same time, this demeaning term suggests a character without individual vulnerabilities.

Blondie1977

The music Blondie made is like a novel based on the short story of their name. Listening to my favourite Blondie album Parallel Lines, we meet Sunday Girl,  “as cold as ice cream but still as sweet.”   Heart of Glass, portrays a similar character. A glass heart suggests someone tough and unemotional, but also fragile and vulnerable .  In One Way or Another, a cold hearted girl is both a stalker making dark threats, and a playful little thing, giving you the slip in a game of hide and seek. There’s Pretty Baby – that ie sound again – about a young girl trying to separate the fantasies of romance from reality.  Picture This, apparently a love song, is actually a celebration of the vision of a loved one rather than an acceptance of their reality. Fade Away and Radiate , similarly, paints a picture of someone watching a film, who feels a deeper connection with a silvery screen goddess than with real people who mock her in daily life.  Finally, there’s a line in I Know But I Don’t Know, about how “I’m your dog but not your pet.” Blondie is a pet, a bunny, a cutie, the vision of a perfect, undemanding companion; but you’d be wrong to think that this pet isn’t an animal with teeth.

So there you are – Blondie, an album of songs in itself.

 

 

 

 

 

I Get The News I Need On The Weather Report

Weather_Report-Heavy_Weather

Weather Report were a jazz fusion band of the 1970s and 1980s.  They recorded wonderful music and came up with one of the best band names in history. Weather Report illustrates the effort that has to go into finding just the right words.

In 1970, pianist Joe Zawunil, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and bassist Miroslav Vitous, all luminaries of the jazz scene, decided to form a new band. However, they did not have a name to describe the unclassifiable music they were making. The three founding members met in Zawunil’s New York apartment to put that right. Zawunil, in an interview with Jazz Forum magazine in 1976, described how they went through thousands of names. They kept coming back to the name Daily News, but felt it wasn’t quite right. Then, thinking about the news, Wayne Shorter pondered on the fact that the news always contained a bulletin about the weather. When he suggested Weather Report, they all knew they had found what they were looking for.

So why is Weather Report a better band name than Daily News? Well, let’s think about it. It is difficult to see a jazz band as a group of journalists. It’s hard to get a clear story from free flowing music without any lyrics. If a piece of jazz music were a news story, you wouldn’t be able to work out what was going on in the world that day. Daily News is too literal.

The Weather Report is a different story. The facts of weather are not like the facts of news. We all accept that reports on the weather have an informal relationship with what actually happens. The weather is vast and ever changing, benign, glorious, dull, violent; and our ability to understand and predict the weather is partial. It’s like listening to music and feeling there is a pattern and meaning there, but not having the ability to understand it.

275px-Michael_Fish_1987_storm_forecast

If music is commenting on the world then it does so in the form of a weather report. Talking about the weather is a shorthand for talking about nothing important. At other times a weather report can tell you that your house is about to blow away. The weather is such a vast, mysterious constantly changing story, spinning out endless variations on the same themes, like a piece of jazz. Music is harmless entertainment, and a force that can move millions. It’s a breeze on a sunny day and a storm changing the landscape.

None of this is in the Daily News; it’s all in the Weather Report.

 

 

A Distant View of the Perfect Book

Little paris Bookshop

This book is about a Paris bookseller, who styles himself a literary pharmacist dispensing books for emotional ailments. I work in an actual pharmacy, so I was interested in this idea. Real pharmacy, of course, is precise, with cures measured in milligrams. Literary cures are not going to be like that, and the sceptical part of me wondered at the wisdom of comparing the vague benefit of books with pharmacy. Yet as a reader, I had the sense that books are good for you. So, what benefit might I gain from The Little Paris Bookshop?

Initially I didn’t seem to be gaining very much. The story started well, only for the plot to become decidedly shaky – based on a misunderstanding that was difficult to accept in people who were supposed to be sun-moon-and-stars in love. There were coincidental meetings that strained credulity. The sentimental view of books themselves became wearing, almost as if this was a novel about the idea of a good book rather than the thing itself. After all, Southern Lights, the book that literary pharmacist Jean Perdu most admires, is itself fictional. Only a pretend book can be perfect. We do have to accept that about books. This is where we come on to something more positive. Real books are not perfect, but they are the only kind of books that are going to offer us something we can use.

Back in the real world, The Little Paris Bookshop made some reasonable claims for the value of books. Books typically take you into the experience of someone who might be very different to yourself. In this way, they can help enhance a sense of empathy. That’s what I think Nina George is getting at when she says reading can make people more temperate, loving and kind. In this respect, the call for the world’s rulers to take a reader’s licence is a good one. However, Nina George is also right when she says that reading cannot give the power of empathy to a person who lacks it. “The truly evil… did not become better fathers, nicer husbands, more loving friends.” Sadly there is no cure for sociopathy.

So beyond the fact that books can make nice people nicer, what is there? The Little Paris Bookshop has no easy answers on that score. Books do not seem to be the solution to Jean Purdu’s problems. In fact, you could say he turns his back on books and goes off and gets a life. But what kind of life is that? Well, it’s a kind of glorified boating and beach holiday. He goes on a trip he doesn’t really need to take, but goes anyway. He is not looking for anything in particular, which provides the kind of open-ended journey where he does actually find something. Maybe that’s what a book is, a holiday, special in not being strictly needed.

I have to admit this wasn’t the best holiday I’ve ever taken. Some fellow tourists did get drunk and over excited.  However, there were some interesting views, a few worthwhile excursions, and some holiday reading that stayed with me after I returned home.