Monday, May 23, 2011

Tunng & Groove

Andrez Bergen has worked as a journalist, musician, photographer and graphic designer. He's also just published his first novel, The Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat through Another Sky Press out of Portland and they've got an interesting publishing philosophy which you can read more about here. Reminds me of what Radiohead tried with In Rainbows... never did hear how that worked out for them. And of course it sounds a little bit like what Stona Fitch has been doing with the Concord Free Press who - have you heard? - are launching the Concord e-Press to help fund the 'Free' press. So, yeah, their first round of e-books will include a short story collection from Scott Phillips, Rum, Sodomy & the False Eyelash as well as Matthew McBride's Frank Sinatra in a Blender, (featuring a gushing introduction by Ken Bruen btw).

But I digress... Andrez Bergen is today's contributor to the Narrative Music series.

I almost went with Palance. I love the guy as an actor and
But, instead, I find myself writing about some Brits I stumbled across when I did a DJ set in London in 2002. There was this band contributing to a mate’s compilation CD over there, and when he played me their song I was smitten.

The band was Tunng, the guest vocalist someone named Summit, and the song is called ‘Little King’. It’s never left my personal play-list over the intervening decade; these days it sits pretty on my iPod and will never, ever be deleted from same.

But the music itself is far from pretty – it’s downright ethereal, in a sardonically British kind of way. Tunng matches superb finesse behind their rack-mounted electronic gadgets and live instrumentation with a style, rhythm and tempo all their own.

So what is ‘Little King’ like, anyway?

It’s sublime, as I mentioned; there’s that canny touch of caustic knowingness; it’s almost a love song to some unseen muse, though given that this muse is “four foot nothing with dirty knees… carried on shoulders like a little king”, this is either a kid we’re talking about or a height-challenged adult individual.

Then there are the contrasts and off-skew lyrics that contradict: We’re introduced to “She” in the fifth line, but in that same breath she’s compared with a king instead of a queen. Then come the two standout lines for me:  “She is worshipped and adored/Invisibly worshipped and ignored.”

I’ll probably never know what the writer(s) actually intended by all this, but in my headspace I picture quite vividly a crossover between the child Dalai Lama in Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997) and the equally young Puyi in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) being carried by worshipers through a dusty, sun-drenched place in Tibet or the Gobi Desert. Sure, they’re boys, but I can’t think of any celluloid moment similar in which a girl is “worshipped and adored” – though many girls do get a tip of the hat for “Invisibly worshipped and ignored”.

That’s where the trouble boils to the surface, beneath the serene beauty of the above landscape scenario: An undercurrent that’s dark, possibly scarring, and worrisome; intimations that some kind of abuse, physical or mental, is being played out.

No one came looking for me” is just plain sad.

But this kid surely has attitude. “Four foot nothing”? Short but tough, I like to think. “Knees stained with dirt”? If it’s a girl, a tomboy who’ll hit back. Besides, he/she “is restless with greed”. This kid is no pushover.

The real strength of ‘Little King’, however, is its flexibility. It has this chameleon-like ability to twist and adapt to different kinds of scenarios in your head, making it one of the more influential pieces of music that helped shape my recently published novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

There were times on the train here in Tokyo when I’d just tune out from the crowds, hit play on my iPod, conjure up pivotal scenes in the book, and reflect. ‘Little King’ was the soundtrack for the more harrowing emotional moments therein.

It’s that kind of song – a poignant, moving, somewhat dark journey of a lullaby that remains unforgettable. That said, here are the lyrics in their entirety to nut over on your own:

Four foot nothing knees stained with dirt
When we went hiding why don't you seek?
No one came looking for me
Your head is restless with greed

She carried on shoulders like a little king
She is worshipped and adored
Invisibly worshipped and ignored
No one came looking for me

Twisted metal and underground deeds
This weightless town no good for me
Your head is restless with greed
Your fate laid down in deep

Palance will just have to wait until next time.

Andrez Bergen