All art is quite useless according to Oscar Wilde
Turner 1775 to 1851
Toulouse-Lautrec 1864 to 1901
Andy Warhol 1928 to 1987 RIP
Ernest Hemingway 1899 to 1961
George Orwell, Jimi Hendrix, William Butler Yeats, Jack B. Yeats
Richard Redgrave 1804 to 1888
Henry Moore 1896 to 1986
Henry Miller, Sid Vicious only 21
Otis Redding 1941 to 1967 RIP
Here’s one I don’t expect many of you to know, A House Bingo EP; not that I’m being all snooty and smug, it’s just that it never got the exposure one of its tunes deserved. I bought this in 1992 after hearing the lead track ‘Endless Art’ very late one night on the John Peel Show. Now it has to be said that three of the four tracks here are either just not my thing, but most indie rock wasn’t; but ‘Endless Art’ – WOW!!
Now I like lists. There I’ve said it. But I know that I’m in very good company, you do too. I know that, not because I broke into your house when you were out at work today and nosed through your things, moving your furniture around by millimetres to give you an inexplicable yet tangible sense of vague unease when you got home, no not this time*, but because you’re the sort of person who’s here reading a blog which is basically a glorified list. Hell, you probably have one of your own. I like lists, they’re good certain things in an increasingly uncertain world. I’ve always kept a list of my records, remember the feeling of satisfaction when I completed the first page in the exercise book with one LP per line**. I like records and I like lists, it is a match made in heaven for me, but let’s face it give me half an excuse and I’d start making a sock spreadsheet – it’s how I get my jollies. So songs that are lists … WOW!!
Let’s feast our ears before we go much further, sorry Canadians.
It’s a song and it’s a list. Beginning with the Oscar Wilde quote ‘all art is quite useless’, over a great churning, driving beat, with some interestingly placed bits of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (seriously!), singer Dave Couse intones a list of great artists ranging from William Butler Yeats, to Mickey Mouse via Elvis Presley and Joan Miro. If I haven’t made it sound that great, that’s a fault of my writing because the song is really, really great. What makes it for me are the choice of the artists celebrated, the fact that he gives their birth/death dates and Couse’s rather dead pan delivery. This is wonderfully clever music.
A quick trawl around the internet tells me that the track was picked up on hugely by radio at the time and MTV Europe loved it too, but it only got to #46 on the UK charts because the band’s indie label simply couldn’t get enough copies pressed up and distributed quickly enough into the shops, by the time they did A House had missed the bus.
Of course there are other great list songs, REM’s It’s The End of the World, Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire and The Justified Ancient’s of Mu-Mu It’s Grim Up North are my favourites – all of which I bought on single over the years. Funnily enough one of my very favourite poems Me by Adrian Henri also pulled the same trick as ‘Endless Art’ decades before, just revelling the sheer poetic possibility of famous names and unlikely juxtapositions^.
But anyway, enough of my words.
Now even better, A House took some stick for the fact that every artiste mentioned in ‘Endless Art’ was male – their jokey defence that they thought Joan Miro was a lady didn’t pass muster and so they re-recorded the song as ‘More Endless Art’, using only female artists. I love that.
*last time yes, this time no.
**Genesis Foxtrot, since you ask.
if you weren’t you, who would you like to be?
Paul McCartney Gustav Mahler
Alfred Jarry John Coltrane
Charlie Mingus Claude Debussy
Wordsworth Monet Bach and Blake
Charlie Parker Pierre Bonnard
Leonardo Bessie Smith
Fidel Castro Jackson Pollock
Gaudi Milton Munch and Berg
Belà Bartók Henri Rousseau
Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns
Lukas Cranach Shostakovich
Kropotkin Ringo George and John
William Burroughs Francis Bacon
Dylan Thomas Luther King
H. P. Lovecraft T. S. Eliot
D. H. Lawrence Roland Kirk
Andy Warhol Paul Uzanne
Kafka Camus Ensor Rothko
Jacques Prévert and Manfred Mann
Bakunin Ray Bradbury
Miles Davis Trotsky
Stravinsky and Poe
Danilo Dolci Napoleon Solo
St John of the Cross and
The Marquis de Sade
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Rimbaud Claes Oldenburg
Adrian Mitchell and Marcel Duchamp
James Joyce and Hemingway
Hitchcock and Bunuel
Donald McKinlay Thelonius Monk
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Philip Jones Grifths and Roger McGough
Stéphane Mallarmé and Alfred de Vigny
Ernst Mayakovsky and Nicolas de Stael
Hindemith Mick Jagger Durer and Schwitters
last of all