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Wallowing through the holidays with ‘Down & Out,’ a recent NTS collection of private press glum-folk
Private press folk compiled by Perfect Lives’ Bruno Halper and Samuel Strang for the great NTS Radio.
It’s no secret that the holidays can be hard. All these songs about joy, happiness, merriness, jingling bells, and fun permeate the ether, and if you’re not in the best mood the lyrical commands can seem almost dictatorial. Tis the season to be jolly? How about we take today off? “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus?” The narrator should be upset at her mother’s apparent indiscretion. Reality check: We all know Frosty the Snowman’s existence is threatened by sunny days.
Sometimes the most joyful way to spend an evening during the holiday is by wallowing, if only for a few hours, in some of life’s hard truths, as conveyed by obscure, isolated artists pouring it all out for the world to hear – only for them to be met by decades of long, desperately silent nights.
Down & Out is a compilation issued by UK music and broadcast hub NTS that gathers total bummer folk recordings taken mostly from private press albums released in the US and UK between 1968-1980.
The themes can best be understood by highlighting a series of lyrics and lines from across the collection, each more emotionally devastating than the last:
The candle’s burning down low. And as it burns away I’m counting stars till the day. The trees have lost their green. Feel like I should die. Oh baby why’d you leave me high and dry? The grave may have my bones. I quiver with the dampest chill, air coughed by quagmire dawn, to know how little I’ll be missed when I am merely gone. I was told that angels don’t need friends. Where is the little boy that I’m looking for that I used to be? Where’s he gone? Other kids are crying. Can I cry once again? Is sadness all that’s left inside? She sits and weeps in her walled room of gray. He said he loved me but who really knows?
A truly strange and emotionally wrought document, Down & Out is dense with death-dirges, but the most striking and memorable is a song by an artist named Richard Forestier. Called “Soupirs,” it’s a quiet guitar work that, instrumentally, recalls a John Fahey funeral march. But it’s what Forestier “sings” that is truly jarring and creepy.
Instead of singing, he placed his microphone very close to his mouth and inhales and exhales loudly, as if he were in either great agony or ecstasy. It’s a truly freaky track, one of many on this thematically dark collection. It’s so grim – often humorously so – that you exit a deep listen of the 14-song collection with a kind of joyful relief: life may be tough, but at least it’s not Down & Out-level tough.
We’ve secured a limited number of vinyl copies of Down & Out. They’re available online and at our Fairfax hub.
In Stock Now:
Compiled by Bruno Halper & Samuel Strang for NTS.
Mastered by Geoff Pesche (Abbey Road).
Transfers & restoration by Neal Birnie, Brandon Hocura & Joe Tessone (Mystery Street).
Design & Layout by Daniel Sansavini.
A1 Brenda Wootton & John The Fish — Stars (UK 1968)
A2 Bob Hughes — High & Dry (UK 1976)
A3 Harry Waller — Merely Gone (USA 1969)
A4 Jim Leedy — Move Inside My Head (USA 1971)
B1 Franz Scheurer & Murray Hinder — Farewell (Australia 1978)
B2 Jack Lucking — Death (USA 1972)
B3 David Budin — I’ll Be Gone (USA 1967)
B4 Skip Prokop — Blue Boy (USA 1977)
C1 Peter Berkow & Friends — Sometimes My Life (USA 1975)
C2 Bill Clint — Sometimes Angels Don’t Need Friends (Canada 1975)
C3 Dana Westover — From A Tower Window (USA 1972)
D1 Richard Kneeland — Present Your Errors (USA 1976)
D2 Richard Forestier — Soupirs (France 1980)
D3 Hooknorton — High & Dry (UK 1977)
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