By The Landlord
“I fix what's broken - except in the heart.” – Bernard Malamud, The Fixer
“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven't had any tea for a week...
The bottom is out of the Universe.” – Rudyard Kipling
"Everybody talks about wanting to change things and help and fix, but ultimately all you can do is fix yourself. Because if you can fix yourself, it has a ripple effect." – Rob Reiner
Hello! And welcome back to Song Bar for 2019! Previously we've started the year with music to open a radio show or any mixtape, and after a spate of bad news, positive songs. But what now?
Perhaps it's me. Perhaps it's a sense of self-dissatisfaction, of annoyance, anger even, as much as about problems in the world at large. But what can you do? Fix the big things or the little problems? Start small in your own back yard? From those selfish neighbours who fail to put their food rubbish in the recycling bin every week, to the guy who walks his dog past your house but never picks up that daily turd? How? With a soft word, and if that doesn't work, something firmer? What one person can do is limited, I admit, but perhaps I could help keep our street out of the shit.
Perhaps I'm also getting older. I find myself noticing things to sliding into disrepair more and more. From my squeaky floor, to the leaking faucet, to personal behavioural flaws.
Perhaps the world has become gradually more self-absorbed, a creature too constantly scrolling to care for itself, contradictorily, in anything other than the present. Britain has become a gnarly, James Gillray-style cartoon character, gazing into an online mirror of its own past, so obsessed with Brexit that it has forgotten how to wash and clothe itself. Meanwhile, unlike in the context of the original, it is the architects of all of this, who are waiting to carve up the plumb pudding that's left...
Yes indeed, It all needs fixing, from the whitewashed government report to the half-witted narcissistic, psychopathic, Fox News goggling White House idiotic Twitter retort. From holes in the road to the underfunded NHS, from poverty and homelessness to climate disaster and the full cornucopia of corporation-led cock-ups, the time seems ripe to stir things up, pull those hole-ridden socks up, shout about it, pull fingers out and sort this hell-to-a-handcart state right out. Or we can try. And it might even be fun. Especially if you have some playlists going on in the background centre exactly upon that.
After all, listening to songs about fixing objects and solving situations or problems help with those tasks. Music is a great accompaniment to practical tasks. And in turn, music itself can repair and refresh the mind and body, stimulate circulation and brain activity. It can be just as important as how sleep repairs the brain by processing the day's events and concerns, filing or deleting the unnecessary waste and worry, and helping us focus. Worry is an enormous waste of energy. It is far better to attempt to fix something and fail, than just worry about the right way to deal with it, and do nothing.
So then let's grab our toolkits and get our fix of musical repairs and solutions. Where do they crop up in songs? Might they be about fixing our bodies and minds, but as much as about holes, and leaks, guitars and clocks and cars? Automobile repairs may be a good place to start, because quite simply, there are lots of songs about cars. Some songwriters, such as Johnny Cash, like to repair their own. But getting cars repaired by others can be stressful. Car mechanics don't like to be watched. They also make strange noises when looking at the problem - tutting, wincing, groaning, scratching chins and arses. Cars can also make strange noises, often musical ones, but the most common one is the sound of the garage's cash register ringing:
Fixing can require all sorts of skills, not merely practical, but also subtle negotiation and other communication skills, but aside true expertise, there are really just too ways to fix things.
1) Turn them off, and then back on again.
2) Hit them.
So now that we've hit on this topic, let's enjoy a rather wonderful compilation of percussive maintenace from lots of films.
When it comes to hitting things, fixing mistakes with more mistakes, is easy to fall into. In the timelessly brilliant Father Ted, which Irish friends of mine say is not a comedy but a documentary programme, Ted and Dougal get in a pickle about a car for a charity raffle that gets damaged, and with the replacement they notice that has small dent in it ...
Meanwhile the Song Bar New Year's Eve party still has a number of guests who refused to go home, and remain to talk about the topic of repairs. They seem to range across a variety of views on fixing things, and how far it is possible.
Patti Smith likes to see the bigger picture. "You can't change the world; you can't fix the whole environment. But you can recycle. You can turn the water off when you're brushing your teeth. You can do small things," she says. And she's right. It's also better to repair stuff than just throw away and buy new.
Now John F. Kennedy is back with us, recalling one of his speeches, which could be a solution to what's going on right now. "The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining," is a practical metaphor, but also: "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."
Film-maker Michael Moore is always ready to take the task: "I was taught from a very early age that it was probably the most American thing you can do is to question what's going on and to try to fix things that you see that aren't right. I believed that as a young person, and I believe that today.
Even a right-wing commentator can sometimes come out with the truth and repairs. "You can't fix a problem if you don't have the words to describe it. You can't even think about it clearly." says Tucker Carlson.
Bill Bryson, who has all the right words, and has travelled far and wide, sees the limitations of what one person can do: "I can't fix the world. If you want to make a difference in life, you have to direct your energies in a focused way."
But now let's get practical with a few musicians. Bruce Dickinson, who has expertise in all sorts of fields, is also here. He's keen on engineering and education. "Engineering stimulates the mind. Kids get bored easily. They have got to get out and get their hands dirty: make things, dismantle things, fix things. When the schools can offer that, you'll have an engineer for life."
It's interesting who turns up here agreeing with each other. Mary Shelley adds to Bruce's point. "Indeed sir. Nothing contributes so much to tranquilise the mind as a steady purpose - a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye."
On a practical, and musical note, here's Leo Fender. His guitars have made the world sing. and his secret is all about design in the first place. "The design of each element should be thought out in order to be easy to make and easy to repair."
Jack White is most impressed by Leo. But while a huge admirer of guitars and analogue, he's also disapproving of the quick digital fix in music. "That's what happens nowadays with people working on computers. They can so easily fix things with their mouse and take out all the, 'Oh, somebody coughed in the background; we need to take that out' - or somebody hit a bad note. But those are all the best moments."
The actor Alan Arkin thinks we can fix anything. "I don't believe there's anything in life you can't go back and fix. The ancient Vedas - the oldest Hindu philosophy - and modern science agree that time is an illusion. If that's true, there's no such thing as a past or a future - it's all one huge now. So what you fix now affects the past and the future.
From that spiritual note, Dolly Parton now moves to more personal, practical matters. "Yeah, honey, first thing I do in the morning, after I have my breakfast and do my spiritual work, is put on my makeup and fix my hair, and I can do my makeup in 15 minutes."
"Go girl!" says Missy Elliott. "Now baby, let me fix my weave!"
Iggy Pop is also here, recalling a less practical form of fix in his more wayward days, and what he said to those present at a gig. "Look, you're here to see me, and I can't go on until my dealer is here, and he's waiting to be paid, so give me some money so I can fix up, and then you'll get your show.”
But repair is also about the mind and body. Bikram Choudhury, the yoga pioneer, takes us back to the car metaphor. "I fix the human chassis, I tune up human engines, I recharge human batteries, and I adjust human transmissions." Let’s hope though overdoing yoga doesn’t make a dog’s dinner of a job:
Author Matt Haig, who has written extensively about depression, sees written material as the ultimate human repair kit. "Books should be right up there with exercise and diet as something that don't just entertain us but heal us. They tell us we are not alone and fix the pieces of us that can be shattered by reality. They are teachers, and they are friends, and we should never contemplate a world - or a life - without them."
Talking of books, and depression here's one of our great regulars, Douglas Adams, who takes a more pragmatic view of personal repair. "I briefly did therapy, but after a while, I realised it is just like a farmer complaining about the weather. You can't fix the weather - sorry, but you just have to get on with it.
Sorry? On more social matters, author Lynn Johnston, says that: "An apology is the superglue of life! It can repair just about anything!”
But what about medicine to repair the body? Here's Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari on a different trend in repair in human history. It's less about fixing, more fixing upgrades: "I think, in general, medicine in the 21st century will switch from healing the sick to upgrading the healthy... If you find ways to repair the memory damaged by Alzheimer's disease or dementia and so forth, it is very likely that the same methods could be used to upgrade the memory of completely healthy people."
One man who in reality found his body getting older and frailer, in contrast to the character he played, is Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors. I figured my body always would be able to repair itself. I think all of us believe that - until you begin to age and get hit with deteriorating joints." Anyway, let's enjoy a bit of his old bionic action:
So then, like the Six Million Dollar Man, can we rebuild, repair, and solve this subject with songs on this topic? Yes we can. Please use your many tools and skills and place nominations in comments below. Our chief mechanic helping fix object, mind, body and soul is the tremendous treefrogdemon, leaping back into the chair and helping bring in the new year after a bit of a break. Deadline is this coming Monday at 11pm UK time GMT, with playlists published on Wednesday. Fix up, look sharp!
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