By The Landlord
"I went to a restaurant that serves 'breakfast at any time'. So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance." – Steven Wright.
"A bachelor's life is a fine breakfast, a flat lunch, and a miserable dinner." – Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Welcome to the Song Bar, pull up a chair, settle down and peruse the menus, where this week we are serving up meals all day. Meals, that is, of a musical nature, tasting a broad smorgasbord of genres, cultures and eras, all of which pertain to those occasions of eating that are spread out throughout the day. Some of us might grab a quick snack, and in some cultures may last for many hours, particularly when they are of a celebratory nature. How many courses? Well that’s up to you.
Is it healthy to eat a big breakfast, a medium-sized lunch and a smaller evening meal? Many of us do the opposite. What would our hunter-gatherer ancestors do? And when is feeding time, out in the wild, or at the zoo? Would they even have mealtimes, or just get what they could on the go? Songwriters love to talk about mealtimes, but perhaps because their lifestyles dictate something different. But first, let’s kick off by breaking our fast:
Breakfast of champignons
Is breakfast a sociable meal? More often it is a grumbly, hurried affair. Here’s Winston Churchill: “My wife and I tried two or three times in the last 40 years to have breakfast together, but it was so disagreeable we had to stop.”
Some people, however, put a huge emphasis on a healthy breakfast. Here are two pop super beings on what makes them bright and beautiful of a morning, popping in the bar to make their order. “I love making buckwheat crepes with ham, Parmesan cheese, and a fried egg on top. It's my go-to breakfast,” says Taylor Swift. Good on you, Taylor. Now please go to make one for me too.
And now in strides Beyonce Knowles (can she enter any other way?) and she always gets what she wants: “I always have breakfast, say, scrambled egg whites, a vegetable smoothie, or whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk. For lunch and dinner, I eat a lot of fish and vegetables. And throughout the day, I try to stay hydrated.” OK lady, give me a minute, we’re still on breakfast. You’re always so ahead of the curve. So is that a breakfast of champions, or can I suggest a breakfast of champignons?
Eggs, in all their various over easy or other forms, seem to be a very common theme as a breakfast material. But don’t go over the top, unless of course you are a champion, like Rocky Balboa:
Meanwhile, let’s pile on some ham ’n’ eggs, courtesy of A Tribe Called Quest, again riding high with a superb new album, but here giving us an old classic:
Whether you’re getting up early or late, what is termed breakfast or any other meal, can often seem blurred. Frank Zappa’s son Ahmet describes how his father seemed to adventurously redefine the genre as much as he did with music: “My father would often work all night and sleep during the day, so for us, dinner might be pancakes, and breakfast might be beef stroganoff.”
So now we have that in between, blurry period. Is it elevenses, or brunch? You decide. Coffee anyone? When’s lunch? Coming right up …
Before we go on, I need to clear something up. Lunch never used to be called lunch when I grew up. The three main northern meals of the day were breakfast, dinner and tea, tea not being the afternoon variety with cucumber sandwiches a cake or anything bourgeois like that, but tea was your evening meal, no later than 6pm. And some people use the word supper. What is that? The evening meal? Anyway, your mid-day meal was all about potato scoops and smiling school dinner ladies, with their big smiles, saucy banter and jam roly poly puddings. They looked a bit like these beauties:
But now for general purposes, let’s do, and call it lunch. Lunch takes on many other ramifications other than the food you eat. It’s a break from work. It’s a power meeting. It’s a place to be seen, or to hide. In Hollywood it’s a social status thing, but if you don’t play it right, well, there’s no place for you in the fancy restaurant. “You’ll never eat lunch in this town again,” said Julia Phillips, powerful film producer and author of the book of the same name. Orson Welles fought his way to this meal with varying success, fighting the film system, and often winning. Now he’s in the bar eyeing up our menu, and remarks, slapping his big fat belly: “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.”
“But there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” retorts the writer Milton Friedman, and he’s right, nor is he joking. Writers always have to pay it back, one way or another, with poor royalty returns, while those publishers just claim it back as expenses. Take any lunch you can, that’s what I say.
Lunch is a much bigger deal on the continent of Europe, particularly in France or Italy, for example. “In France you cannot not have lunch. If you stopped the French from having lunch, you will have a second revolution, I can tell you this. Not going to work - it is part of the French privilege,” says the fashion designer Christian Louboutin. Now that’s civilised.
But one of my favourite favourite lunch scenes is a Sunday affair, coming in the countryside cottage of the motley threesome of Withal and I, and Uncle Monty. After flirting outrageously with Marwood in the kitchen, they lunch together, where Richard Griffiths serves up one of many gems in this glorious film, where lunch is a wistful expression of higher things away from a world of “weather forecasts and breakfasts”:
So lunch can be a huge affair, or a snack on the side. But some people avoid it altogether. In the corner of the bar a thin, twitchy man is sipping tea and staring at his computer, tapping at it furiously from time to time. Who is it? It’s only creator the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Anything to say about lunch, Sir Tim? “Anyone who has lost track of time when using a computer knows the propensity to dream, the urge to make dreams come true and the tendency to miss lunch.”
“Yeah,” replies Oliver Stone. “Lunch is for wimps.” And he’s echoed by that utterly ruthless character from Wall Street, Gordon Gekko:
But what is the best kind of lunch? Probably one that’s also the worst. It’s the liquid lunch. Let’s find out why in this jaunty little number:
Afternoon snack attack
Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Three o'clock in the afternoon is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.” It’s also a time when our blood sugar tends to drop, so comes the urge for a top up. These can come in all forms. Afternoon tea? Tiffin? Cake? Whatever you fancy, but we all tend to do it. It’s all great. Kiss’s Gene Simmons ducks under the door of the bar and tells us more: “I worship scones and danishes. If I never had another meal, I wouldn't care as long as I could eat pastries and jelly doughnuts.” Well, that’s all very well, and no doubt there's many a song about doughnuts out there, but here’s an utterly gratuitous picture for those of us you enjoy some afternoon tea, and no doubt there will a few songs about this too:
Now, breaking with my normal practice of airing anything associated with that destroyer of culture, Simon Cowell, I’m going to give you a piece of something else. It’s crumble, courtesy of pianist, teacher and entertainer Lorraine Bowen. I happened to meet her recently, and she’s not only charming and eccentric, but also a right good laugh. She also totally humiliated the “music” mogul Cowell on his own show, Britains Got Talent, with a little help from David Walliams in one of TV’s golden moments:
Dinner dinner dinner …
Also known as tea in northern England (see above), the evening meal perhaps has more social associations than any other meal. It can be a romantic dinner date, or an awkward family meal, a Roman orgy, a a medieval banquet celebrating victory, or a sumptuous Babette’s Feast. It could be a wedding meal where speeches embarrass or make shocking revelations. I’ve previously mentioned the highly charged scene in the Danish film Festen in another topic, but the movie world is richly filled with sumptuous dinner scenes that are about so much more than the food. Whether it is the faked orgasm over pizza in When Harry Met Sally, or the shocking main course finally served up in The Cook, The Thief, HIs Wife and Her Lover, I’m going to focus on two films where music plays a key role. First up, let’s have a sexually charged dinner date at Jack Rabbit Slims in Pulp Fiction, and see what “Buddy” can offer our couple:
Dinner then, often leads to dancing. I’ve mentioned the famous diner breakfast scene in this film before, but I hope it also inspires more musical servings.
From The Godfather onwards, it’s clear that dinner in the Italian gangster context is about as filling as it gets. Soprano family meals are plentiful in brilliant moments, but they perhaps all stem from Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Can there be a more brutal and cringeworthy but funny scene at Tommy’s mum’s house, where an enemy is in the boot of their car, awaiting a carving up, while the three men stop off for dinner? Nothing gets in the way of a good meal:
And then, when the gang have a spell in prison, it’s all about the food preparation and important details, the slicing of the garlic and preparation of the sauce as important and delicate as any complex criminal activity:
But if you’re not careful, boys, tea won't even be for two, and dinner won’t be a social affair at all. You’ll be eating your dinner alone in solitary. So to close, here’s a smooth number from a member of the rat pack, with Nat King Cole ordering Dinner for One Please, James:
So then, whatever mealtime you fancy, breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, tea, dinner, supper or midnight snacks, suggest songs that mention it song, whether that be about what kind of food to have, or its social setting. This week’s king of the kitchen and gourmet of good music is our very own DiscoMonster, who will taste your offerings and serve up a sumptuous feast of playlists next Wednesday, so please put in your orders by 11pm UK time on Monday. Our chef du semaine will keep you posted just in case the kitchen closes earlier. It’s all in the best possible taste.
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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.