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Bar by Bar

What the heck is a ‘Bar by Bar’ when it’s at home?

Does your mother play golf? Have you ever had to throw up in a kangaroo’s pouch?

I know no one really reads the blog, but that’s not really why I write it. I write because I like writing, I realise, like Lester Bangs in Almost Famous but without the recreational domestic cleaning product substance abuse. I write about many things, from football tactics to gender politics, because I have many interests. But the one thing that I’ve always come back to throughout my life is music. I love listening to it, I love reading about it, and I love writing about it.

And it’s no stretch to say that music writing has shaped my writing. When I was younger, Smash Hits was the first time that I really paid attention to the writing rather than the words. I know that music is a totem of kinship and rebellion for young people and for many of them, it’s the way that they find the tribe that shapes the rest of their lives. I found a similar subversion there but the medium was the writing, not the music.

At the hands of Neil Tennant’s team, words became weapons of mass amusement in ways that had never occurred to me before. Yes, they could just be used for straight up jokes, but understanding those jokes made you an insider. When Smash Hits asked Samantha “Sam” Fox whether it was true that she had applied to be the new drummer for The Housemartins, you knew that that was a joke; she replied, “No! Where do you hear all these silly rumours from?” Jason Donovan couldn’t foresee a situation where he would throw up in a kangaroo’s pouch; Hazell Dean had no knowledge of the length of the world’s longest parsnip; Mick Jones was upset at Big Audio Dynamite being called dinosaurs. Through their answers they marked themselves as outsiders. When asked, which is never, I usually say that my writing is an amalgam of Douglas Adams (the absurdity), Adrian Mole (the pretentiousness) and Robert Smith (the melancholy). The truth is that without Neil Tennant and Ver Hits, I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about the words.

So I was looking for a writing project – just something to amuse myself – and quickly my thoughts came round to music. I can always write something about music, but I wanted an angle and that’s when I came up with the Bar by Bar idea. If you read the sports sections of the Guardian, you’ll have seen either the Minute by Minute reports done for football matches or the Over by Over for cricket matches. Good writers borrow but great writers steal, so I stole that idea and wrote precisely one review like that for a different blog – reviewing a song bar by bar, as it were. And because it was too simple to just think of a bunch of songs that I liked, so I gave it a twist.

The song I wrote about was Steps’ “Story of a Heart”. How to force some randomness into the choice of song for next time? Here’s what I did (it’s really sad):

  • “Steps” has 5 letters. The 5th letter of the English alphabet is E. Therefore, the next song I review will be done by an artist or artiste whose name begins with E.
  • “Story of a Heart” has 13 letter. The 13th letter is M, therefore the next song must begin with M, and so on.

So for example I could do Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Make Me Shine”, or Elvis’ “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame”, or… I know, the excitement is truly tangible, isn’t it? And I’ll be doing it on a strictly ‘as and when I feel like it’ basis too.

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