By The Landlord
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed?
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
– William Blake, from Songs of Innocence, to accompany Songs of Experience
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
– Philip Larkin, MCMXIV
When I was about nine years old, I had a school friend come over on a Saturday to stay over. We were watching TV with my parents after the evening meal, and my dad, who was both eccentric, humorous, but also often inhabited an entirely different headspace to most people, got bored with the show and, hinting that it was beyond our bedtime, turned to my mum and said: “I think it’s about time we had it off.” He was of course, quite innocently only referring to the TV control, but you can only imagine the sniggering going on between me and my best mate.
Innocence then, is all relative, and doesn’t only come from the mouths of children. And what is life after all, but the story of innocence moving inexorably towards experience, and the arc of that narrative told, with pain, pleasure, yearning, and indeed more effectively and efficiently in song? So then, this week we are going to dip into innocence in all forms, and with an extraordinary host of visitors at the Bar, leaning over with their drinks, telling their own tales or innocence lost or regained, and staring down the glass of their own experience.
So this week we’re searching for song-related innocence in three main ways. FIrstly, songs that mention innocence, or other related words in title or lyrics, or tell a tale about that quality. Second, songs that have a style or air of wide-eyed innocence about them. And third, when you’ve exhausted these suggestions, feel free to share your own innocent experiences of early music discovery, how you ran to the shop to get that first 45-inch single, how you put pop band patches on your school bag or jacket, or when you first saw that artist on Top of the Pops or another TV or radio show and thought, “This is the best thing ever!” Ah, great days …
Innocence is something that many artists yearn to recapture as a means to be creative. David Bowie used his own dreams for much lyric writing, trying to capture that sate of passive innocence for creativity. And here’s Tom Waits, who in his own gruff form of tenderness, captures that same idea:
Meanwhile one of Bowie’s collaborators, Robert Fripp, has appeared to tell us more about his need for innocence: “The quality of artistry is the capacity to assume innocence at will, the quality of experiencing innocence as if for the first time.” And Pablo Picasso is now here, draining our supplies of Chianti, with this pithy comment: ““It takes a very long time to become young.” Meanwhile, in a usual combination, the trio is made by Muppets Show creator Jim Henson, who reveals how, “The most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children.” And the best children’s books, films and TV shows always capture innocence in a knowing fashion.
So let’s have a song about nostalgic innocence. Here’s Jeffrey Lewis, who when four, knew the names of every dinosaur, and much more:
Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan is now here to tell us how working with children helped her regain something valuable: “I was a nursery school teacher, and I worked with youth groups. I loved that job. It was exhausting, but you got a lot back - all their purity and insight and innocence is so on the surface, and they're so unrepressed; they'd really scream at you and then give you a massive kiss.”
Bruce Springsteen meanwhile, who is so very affable, and happy to visit us here at the bar, sums up his entire songwriter process with this theme: “I can sing very comfortably from my vantage point because a lot of the music was about a loss of innocence, there's innocence contained in you but there's also innocence in the process of being lost.”
As the Boss says, as much as innocence is cherished, it is also lost. More musicians are now here to tell us about that. Here’s Nick Cave: “I lost my innocence with Johnny Cash. I used to watch the 'Johnny Cash Show' on television in Wangaratta when I was about 9 or 10 years old. At that stage I had really no idea about rock n' roll. I watched him, and from that point I saw that music could be an evil thing - a beautiful, evil thing.”
Meanwhile Taylor Swift does not hesitate to talk about here own material: “'Innocent' is a song that I wrote about something that really, really emotionally impacted me.” You don’t say, Taylor. Other artists yearn for innocence because they feel the music industry is burned out. Morrissey famously said “the ashes are all around us” in the 1980s at the height of The Smiths, and now Brian Wilson has this to say: “Pop music has been exhausted. The innocence has been exhausted. I think we've lost the ability to be blown away by music.” Meanwhile here’s Tom Petty, who indicates there’s nothing innocent about record companies: “The music business looks like, you know, innocent schoolboys compared to the TV business. They care about nothing but profit.”
Film-makers too are always yearning for youthful qualities as a key to creativity. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, says “I have always said that innocence is much more powerful than experience.” And here’s Federico Fellini: “If you see with innocent eyes, my friend, everything is divine.” Making our day at the bar, comes this comment from Clint Eastwood: “The innocence of childhood is like the innocence of a lot of animals.” Is that what comes from working with an not so innocent orangutan in Every Which Way But Loose?
Good Ship Lollipop’s Shirley Temple was once the very epitome of innocence, but in this later quote, it seems, in retrospect she knew what was going on in how we view past days of nostalgia: “Make-believe colours the past with innocent distortion, and it swirls ahead of us in a thousand ways in science, in politics, in every bold intention.”
Some actors, as well as other performers, even as adults, have a quality of innocence, in private or public, that entrances others. “Tony Curtis was a joy to work with. He had a curious innocence that is very young and wise at the same time.” says Nicolas Roeg. And in a very different form, Ozzy Osbourne. “The first time I met him,” recalls Geezer Butler, “he came round my house with a chimney brush over his shoulder, his Dad’s factory gown on, and no shoes. He said, I saw your advert for a singer.”
So from early wide-eyed Beatles to the not-so-innocent Taylor Swift or Britney Spears, music often tries to capture the quality of innocence in its style as well as lyrics. That could even be contained in an instrumental. Certainly much of Kraftwerk’s output has a nostalgic innocence about it. And now we hear that “the characteristic of 'Oxygene' is a mixture of innocence and ambition, of trying to do something different in a different way,” says Jean-Michel Jarre. True. But let’s now enjoy some Young and Innocent Days from the pen of Ray Davies, taken from the album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire):
This very much reminds me of the theme tune from that 70s sitcom about two old Geordie friends, both looking to recapture their innocence, in Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, written by Tony Rivers:
Novelists are often obsessed with innocence. “Art saved me; it got me through my depression and self-loathing, back to a place of innocence.” says Jeanette Winterson. For JG Ballard though, it goes the other way: “Writing a novel is one of those modern rites of passage, I think, that lead us from an innocent world of contentment, drunkenness, and good humour, to a state of chronic edginess and the perpetual scanning of bank statements.” And for Stephen King “the trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool”.
Innocence can be an excellent narrative standpoint. “I started writing books for children because I could illustrate them myself and because, in my innocence, I thought they'd be easier.” Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003), the brilliant book with an autistic narrator.
“The great advantage of having a bear as a central character is that he can combine the innocence of a child with the sophistication of an adult. says Paddington Bear’s Michael Bond.
“Never resist a sentence you like, in which language takes its own pleasure and in which, after having abused it for so long, you are stupefied by its innocence.” says Jean Baudrillard. And Germaine Greer has popped in to make this mischievously pithy remark: “A library is a place where you can lose your innocence without losing your virginity.”
Is all innocence now lost? “Social media is great, I guess, but it feels like technology is the sapper of innocence,” says Chris O’Dowd. “If Edith Wharton lived in the Age of Innocence, surely we now live in the Age of Deception,” says Pamela Meyer. So what happened to innocence. Perhaps the answer is in history. Is innocence lost, for example, because everything is sexualised. “It doesn't bother me that Seven has such an overtly sexual presence, because she has no concept of what effect that physical package would have on some male member of the crew. That's what's fun, her innocence,” says the actress Jeri Ryan, who plays the almost absurdly shapely cyborg Star Trek Voyager character. There’s nothing innocent about the concept of this, and attracting young male Trekkie viewers though, is there?
Meanwhile Bjork, who has a childlike quality to her, talks about innocence with this remark about her own country: “Most Icelandic people are really proud to be from there, and we don't have embarrassments like World War II where we were cruel to other people. We don't even have an army. So it's sort of like an all-around good, innocent place.” Perhaps that’s a bit of generalisation, but have world wars affected a culture’s sense of innocence?
“In every American there is an air of incorrigible innocence, which seems to conceal a diabolical cunning,” says A. E. Housman. Is this true? How can so many Americans be taken in by Trump? Is this a form of innocent optimism, or selfish shortsightedness? Then again there are many Americans who haven’t.
The actor Tom Hiddleston tries to identify why Americans don’t perhaps have the same cynicism as Europeans: “It was quite a European war until 1917, when the Americans joined up. They don't have the same sense of the loss of innocence and the cataclysmic loss of life. A whole generation was wiped out.” And on the same war, which is what Philip Larkin’s poem refers to, here’s Anita Shreve: “WWI is a romantic war, in all senses of the word. An entire generation of men and women left the comforts of Edwardian life to travel bravely, and sometimes even jauntily, to almost certain death. At the very least, any story or novel about WWI is about innocence shattered in the face of experience.” Oh What a Lovely War, they sang …
But while the First World War was the biggest loss of innocence in history, there was no shortage of this in later events. This remark comes from Malcom Turnbull on what happened to children in Australia. “To the former child migrants, who came to Australia from a home far away, led to believe this land would be a new beginning, when only to find it was not a beginning, but an end, an end of innocence - we apologise and we are sorry. To the mothers who lost the maternal right to love and care for their child - we apologise, and we are sorry.”
And here’s Anne Frank from her diary: “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.”
But perhaps one of the most potent areas for songs about innocence is that were it is a legal term. “There used to be a concept in Anglo-American law called a presumption of innocence, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,” says Noam Chomsky, lamenting its loss.
“We've sent 130 men to death row to be executed in this country, at least 130 that we know of, who have later have been exonerated because they were either innocent, or they were not fairly tried. That's 130 people that we've locked down on death row. And they've spent years there.” says John Grisham. “They've done it before and they'll do it again and when they do it -- seems that only the children weep. Good night.” writes Harper Lee, in To Kill a Mockingbird, and there are few more powerful moments of innocence wrongly judged than in her book, where the accused, Tom is a figurehead for generations:
Songs that highlight the innocence of a current or historic figure may certainly come up this week, serious or perhaps the opposite. So to end, here’s a silly example from my childhood, where daft releases somehow became inexplicable hits, with the polished narrative of a group of animals, Captain Beaky and his band, resulting in the protest that a snake, who had eaten a toad, was not to blame. Hissy Sid is innocent! Innocent days …
So then, I’m delighted to announce that turning your innocent songs into the experience of playlists next week will be a guru making their debut behind the pumps - the marvellous Bar regular megadom! Place your songs and more relating to innocence in comments below by 11pm UK time on Monday in time for playlists published next Wednesday.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.