Music and Words: 2013 – Ten Things, numbers 5, 6 and 7

Continuing reflections on what I learned from 2013….

5. Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth

…is one of numerous lapidary phrases that spring from the best song on my favourite record of the year: Modern Vampires of the City, by Vampire Weekend.

Vampire Weekend - StepUntil now, I haven’t really got Vampire Weekend. I could tell they were talented. But they sounded just a bit too cluttered to me, a little too pleased with their own eclecticism and proficiency. But on this, their third album, they sound like they have clicked into the zone, relaxed a bit.

The song, Step, also demonstrates yet again that iron law of pop – that if you get the drums and the voice (including the words) right, you’ve pretty much cracked it.

Discovering a new favourite band also leads me on to my next lesson. It’s good to…

6. Keep your ears open to new music

Long ago, I was shocked when a friend confessed that he really didn’t like music. At the time I thought it was a bit like saying you didn’t enjoy breathing.

As I’ve got older I have obviously noticed that people tend either to lose their enthusiasm for music altogether, or else they remain stuck in time, never getting beyond the sounds they enjoyed when they were younger.

I am sometimes guilty of that, and of dismissing too readily the releases of modern pop acts.

It’s also easy to make the opposite mistake, and to overlook music that was made a long time ago. It’s a shame if that happens, because we have arrived at a point when a huge treasury of song is available. When I first began to take an interest in music, anything that was a few years old might as well have been buried with Tutankhamen. When Elvis Presley died in 1977 it was only months since his most recent hit record but he already seemed to me a figure from the mistiest dawn of primitive music-making.

So I’m pleased to see that I’m still listening to new music, and old music.

Dr Alimantado's best album (Born for a Purpose sadly not included)

Dr Alimantado’s best album (Born for a Purpose sadly not included)

My top-five most-played songs in 2013 (courtesy of the gift to geeks that is iTunes) range from 1976 to 2012.

They are:

Resurrection Fern – Iron and Wine (2008)

Olympians – Fuck Buttons (2009)

Somewhere in Between – Kate Bush (2005)

Born for a Purpose/Reason for Living – Dr Alimantado (1976)

Emmylou – First Aid Kit (2012)

(And the two songs that come after those are from 1975 and 2013.)

7. Between the ages of five and fifteen, native English speakers acquire ten words a day…

…that’s over 300 a month, more than 3000 a year.

I know this because through the magic of the Internet and podcasts it is possible to listen to fascinating radio programmes that once would have been broadcast and then forgotten.

Jean Aitchison

Jean Aitchison

This particular nugget comes from a lecture by Jean Aitchison, one of a series called The Language Web, first broadcast in 1996 and now available as part of the rich treasury that is the archived Reith lectures.

Bertrand Russell - the first Reith Lecturer

Bertrand Russell – the first Reith Lecturer

Another archive that gave me enormous pleasure in the past year, was the complete collection of Clive James’ Point of View broadcasts. You will struggle to find better examples of the art of the ten minute spoken essay. Wise and funny and word-perfect. Check them out.


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