small blue flowers


belly christmas

Bah Humbug. There I said it, I have heard the same things said about Christmas year after year after year, the joys of the season the blah blah blah. You tell someone that you’re not avidly pro Christmas and you either get immediately labelled as some militant hippy “Oh but the commercialism” or a grumpy old scrooge. I may have a touch of the grumpy old scrooge about me this I won’t deny but it’s not why I’m a bah humbug sort of a girl. I just find it a very awkward time and given half a chance (I rarely am) I’ll hide away and pretend it isn’t happening. It’s not a miserable approach, I’m perfectly happy in my own company but invariably some kind but misguided soul takes pity on me and places much emphasis on the “Oh but you can’t spend it alone”. Try pointing out you can to these people. It’s hard work. Nine times out of ten it’s easier to give in and suffer someone else’s Christmas feeling like the Grinch. There’s far too many expectations for this time of year, I never feel comfortable enough to just bumble along in the daze that I normally do. Everything has to be oh so magical and everything has to be oh so special. I was operating under the illusion that it all already was to be honest.

So from me there will be no quirky covers of Christmas songs, no touching tunes or traditional tracks. No. I’m going to look at that which I know best so from me you’ll be getting lectures on The Science Of Christmas.

And the odd song.

Where to start? With the fat man himself of course: Why is Santa such a lardy boy? The genetics of father Christmas.

Santa is a big fat man in a bright red suit. Why can't he help himself with the mince pies? How on earth does he squeeze down the chimney with such an impressive gut? Why isn't Mrs Claus putting the big man on a low carb high "something posh sounding salad with balsamic vinegar" diet? Is Santa so rosy in the face because of all the grub and tipple or is the poor man genetically challenged?

From what I've read it may not be his fault. There could be a genetic flaw in the big guy that means he really can't help it. It is likely Santa has at least a couple of genetic defects that means he has a propensity to portliness and a hunger that never really quite goes away. Most sadly these genetic defects probably means Santa is suffering early onset of diabetes. Mrs Claus must be a very patient lady indeed. I fear for his blood pressure, especially in a career with fixed deadlines and an almost impossible work load. I suppose the holidays are good at least but that one heart attack inducing night of activity will be the death of father christmas. Or, the death of father christmas comes when all the little boys and girls stop believing in him. He busts a gut (ho ho ho) for them and then they give up. The snotty little ingrates.

Is he a positive role model for the little kiddies? He's giving to the good, he shares, he meets his deadlines. These are all admirable qualities indeed. He pulls off red in a way many would be envious of. He has a healthy glow about him (the sherry I bet) .... but he is a portly gent and with Jamie Olivers current war on anything tasty (I know I know) Santa is the anti-role-model. If kids look up to Santa more than Jamie Oliver (who never gave me presents and mostly gave me a headache) then this plague of child obesity I hear so much about in the news could go through the roof.

MP3: Jarvis Cocker: Fat Children

Book: Can Reindeer Fly? The Science of Christmas
CD: Jarvis Cocker

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Io Saturnalia!

This is the first of my Xmas posts on pre-christian Xmas festivals (with added christmas song goodness). As you may have guessed most of these pre-christian festivals are based on the winter solstice. Saturnalia was the Roman winter solstice festival where they celebrated the rededication of the temple to the god Saturn. Saturn's staue was hollowed out and filled with olive oil (as a symbol of his agricultural deification) and his feet which had previously been bound, were unbound at this time. The binding was to ensure Saturn's subordinance to Jupiter, while the loosening symbolized Jupiter's free reign during Saturnalia.


Traditionally this festival started on the 17th December (our calendar - in the Julian calendar this would be around the 25th December) and lasted anything from three to seven days, depending on the decree of the current Emperor. The celebrations included school holidays, slaves were allowed to gamble (see how nice the Romans were?) and even role-reversal in that the masters often served the slaves a banquet. This also involved the slaves wearing a red, felt pileus cap - the symbol of a freed slave - , not unlike that which Santa Claus wears.

Practices that carry over to the present day include the exchanging of gifts on Sagillaria, the last day of Saturnalia, singing holiday songs (in the nude), decorating the house with candles(to signify the return of the sun after the solstice?) - even cutting down evergreen trees, decorating them and dedicating them to Saturn. According to Wiki this was to honour the fact that evergreens remain alive during the harsh winters. I'm sure the irony was not lost on the poor evergreens as the axe bit into their trunks.

In essence, Saturnalia was much like the Christmas that most of us practice today. I wonder who are/were more pious in relation to their religious festival; the Christians at Christmas or the Romans at Saturnalia? So how did Christmas replace Saturnalia? At this point the only Christian festival was Easter, probably the most important of the Christian celebrations. It is thought that the Christian church decided to nominate the 25th of December as Christ's birthday in order to usurp Saturnalia. Much of Rome was Christian by then and it was probably easy to push this through in favour of a pagan celebration. Of course this may be perceived as doing Christianity a disservice, but I think it's fairly clear Christ wasn't born on 25th December. It's also quite interesting that essentially the festivals were very similar in the way they were celebrated and really all that's changed (apart from naked Carol singing) is the deity.


Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age    (www / buy)

Kristin Hersh - Jesus Christ  (www / buy)


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Christmas Bluets

It's appropriate that the approach of Christmas sees Bluets rise up Lazarus-like (but not quite Christ-like as we don't quite have the omnipotent mojo). So, yes, we should be back, talking about christmas things and posting our christmas music, probably like much of the blogosphere. And then, if it all goes to plan (which often it fails to) we'll do a Christmas podcast, probably sometime around Easter.

We aim to talk about our favourite Christmas songs, our favourite mixes, our most hated christmas releases and pre-christian festivals (that's not a Stone Age Glastonbury, or T-Rex in  the Park). Expect scintillating posts soon,



The MacKenzie Poltergeist

(photo by aislinn_niconghaile)

In 1636 George MacKenzie was born in Dundee, son of Simon MacKenzie, He was educated at the University of St Andrews, also studying in Aberdeen and France. In 1667 he became Lord Advocate underneath Charles II. During his life he was most famous for enforcing the persecution of the Covenanters, which he did with vigour and without mercy, earning him the nickname 'Bluidy MacKenzie'. He died in 1691 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh.


There, that's the less interesting stuff over with, though it is all fairly engrossing when you actually start reading about it.


So, what's so spooky about this. Well, in 1999 a wino took refuge in MacKenzie's mausoleum and accidently broke some of the coffins. He ran screaming and incoherent from the graveyard - he may well have been incoherent before entering in fairness. Since then there have been many unexplained occurrences within the kirkyard, mostly violent and frightening for the people involved. At the back of the kirkyard is an area called the Covenanter's Prison where Covenanters waited before being sentenced by MacKenzie. This area is said to be so haunted it is kept locked by Edinburgh City Council.


An exorcist, Colin Grant,  was brought in to get rid of the poltergeist but was unsuccessful. In fact he had refused to enter the graveyard without a bible and a cross.  He suggested that the cemetery was home to almost 200 unhappy spirits, probably Covenanters. He was found dead a few weeks later from a massive heart attack, aged 66. Many of the people who experience something at or after the visit to the mausoleum suffer fainting, extremes of hot and cold, scratches, bruising or even being knocked unconscious. Nearby houses also claim to have experienced paranormal activity with plates smashing and objects flying about. Around all this began a tourist trade, but even the organiser of the tours suffered when his house caught fire and all his papers relating to 'Bluidy MacKenzie' were destroyed.


This is probably one of the best documented paranormal occurrences in the world. To date there have been at least 450 attacks and more than 140 people have collapsed on the tours. You can read some accounts here and from there look at the tour. I believe they even have tours on Halloween.


So, I guess some ghostly mp3's are in order......

Japan - Ghosts  (obviously)  www/buy

Kristin Hersh - Your Ghost    www/buy

Smog - Hangman Blues          www/buy



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The Old Smoo

 (photo by bobthelomond)

OK, so Bluets is in a bit of a hiatus at the moment due to all of us being pretty busy in real life. Hopefully that will ease off soon and normal service will be resumed.

This month's (October) theme is Halloween and all things witchy, scary and ghostly. Innovative and inspired, I know. So I thought I'd try and relate some spooky stories from Scottish folklore and post appropriate tracks to go with said stories.

So, Smoo Cave is a large sea cave on the north coast of Scotland, at the top-left hand corner of the mainland if you want to get non-geographical.

There are several legends attached to it, mainly involving Donald, Wizard of Reay  or Lord Reay.  While visiting Italy, Donald met the Devil and became his student (as you do). It was customary at the end of term for the Devil to claim the last student to leave the classroom as his own. This happened to be Donald. When Donald saw the Devil about to pounce, he shouted  "De'il, tak' the hindmost" and pointed at his shadow. The Devil siezed his shadow, leaving Donald to return to Scotland where it was remarked on many occasions that he cast no shadow.

Of course, if you were the Devil, and he clearly was, you wouldn't take too kindly to being tricked by one of your pupils. In fact you'd probably seek some kind of terrible revenge wouldn't you? Oh yes.

One night Donald and his dog were walking across the moors when a storm struck. They sought refuge in Smoo Cave and the dog ran ahead, deeper into the cave. It came back terror-stricken, yelping and hairless. Donald knew it was the Devil come to settle the score, but to his relief the sun rose and rendered the Devil and his three accompanying witches powerless. They blew holes in the roof of the cavern and all four flew away.

These holes are now how the Allt Smoo (a river) enters the cavern and creates the beautiful scenes we can see in this flickr link  - Smoo Cave - Flickr

Some relevant songs:

Bat for Lashes - The Wizard    www/Buy

Low - Blue-Eyed Devil             www/Buy

Jo McCafferty - Cave              www/Buy



Blacktop, Pt. 1

One of the things that frequently blows my mind is how the North American continent is set up, road wise. I could literally pick any destination on it, and with the help of an atlas or a few good maps, plan a trip there. Eight lane highways, local streets, dirt paths, interstates, lanes, avenues, cul de sacs - roads take varieties of all kinds, and in my first 3-part series for Bluets, i will be examining some road songs.

Part 1: Midwestern Highways

“You and I/Westward on a highway forever/You and I/Finally alone.”

Route 70 runs across the state of Pennsylvania (my former residence) and connects the southwestern part of the state to the mid-west. When thinking of the Midwest, if Nashville-pop-country music and Republicans don’t come to mind, certainly a slower, more laid-back way of life does. Towns where front porches and rocking chairs are more common than traffic lights and litter-clogged sidewalks.

There is something inherently romantic about the idea of picking up the fast paced life some of us suburbanites and city dwellers live and moving someplace where pedestrians crossing the street are waved and not honked at. This is especially an appealing thought if in a relationship that has a serious future. For kids in love, what could be better than having nothing to do but put on a pot of coffee (or tea), putting on your favorite record and lying in a hammock on a Saturday morning?

Of course, this idea is really a myth – no such place really exists without its negatives. Good bands may never pass through the fictional town I speak of, nor may many people of different races, creeds, and sexual orientations. Who wants to raise their kids someplace where they are shut off to so much of the world?

Part of this is a spoiled east-coaster talking – I grew up a bus ride away from some of the world’s best museums, concert venues, restaurants and theatres. I was in a very multi-cultural school system (mainly white and Asian for the most part, but there were certainly Latinos and a few black kids) where the arts, as well as the mid-western holy ground, the football field, were nourished.

As romantic as a trip across 70 West sounds when sung by Homunculus co-lead singer and fellow East Coast native (and son of my dentist) Kevin Shima, I’ll take my tolerant churches, good live music, and stone’s throw from an Indian restaurant over the idyllic Idaho sunset.

- - - - - - - -

You don’t expect idiosyncratic jazz music with a dry sense of humor from the same region of the country that the film Fargo so perfectly introduced the coats to, do you?

Well, that is just one of the surprises that The Bad Plus brings in tow. Three composers in one band who are skilled enough to disguise their compositions so you don’t know that the drums-heavy piece was actually written by pianist Ethan Iverson, or that the bass heavy song is one of drummer David King’s.

One of King’s finest songs, “Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass,” you would swear was written by bassist Reid Anderson. It begins with a tuneful bass introduction that swings its way into the rest of the tune. A clever piano counter melody comes in on top of a breezy beat that builds up and breaks down, but always comes back to that bass melody.

What does this have to do with a Midwestern highway? Well, “Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass” is a trucker/CB radio term (in fact, it is used in the pantheon of white trash culture, C.W. McCall’s title song for the filmConvoy) and is the title of this composition written by Minnesota native King. In the liner notes to These Are The Vistas, the record this is drawn from, it says of this song "The Bad Plus are from the land of 18-Wheelers, and this one is for truckers everywhere."

At first, second, and perhaps six thousandth listen, the song appears to have nothing to do with trucking. It is perhaps as far from trucking as can be, actually. Quiet jazz with a groove on a record with a robot on the cover and a Blondie cover? Yeah, I’m sure they pipe that through Cracker Barrels and Truck Stops throughout the breadbasket of America.

However, like many great songs, this one’s an onion. You peel off the layers until you find what it is you are looking for (even if it is not what the artist actually had in mind).

See, how I hear the song is that the opening bass figure, that repeats throughout, is like the song’s own personal CB handle. For those unfamiliar with CB radios, if I, Brian, were delivering paper goods to the good people of Topeka, Kansas, and got bored on the road, I would pick up my trusty CB receiver and call out to see if anyone is around to converse. I’m sure its more like talking about traffic and good rest areas to have secret homosexual affairs than like “The Best Little Chat House 2167,” but the way I identify myself among the sea of CB-ers out there would be to start all my transmissions with my handle, a name given to myself in the trucker world. Think of it as a screen-name for the multi-lane blacktop internet.

I think I’d be the Duke of Jersey.

So anyway, back to the song. The bass figure is Anderson calling out to those on the road. The piano and drums are answering him in conversation. Every once and awhile, he has to re-identify himself, so the figure repeats.

Towards the end of the song, there is an elongated bass solo. I like to think of that as a soul-bearing monologue that the driver simultaneously hopes is never heard by anyone and yet screamed into the radio, begging for compassion and understanding. And after it is over, the tears wiped off his face, nose blown into a checkered handkerchief, he simply restates his handle, and continues driving.

- - - - -

MP3s (PC Users Right-click and Save As, Mac Users Control Click Download Linked FIle):

Homunculus - "70 West"

The Bad Plus - "Keep The Bugs Off The Glass, And The Bears Off Your Ass"


Purchase Homunculus' The Pulse of Directed Devotion and other fine records from the now-defunct group.

Purchase the Bad Plus' debut, These Are The Vistas and their subsequent two studio records, as well as the internet only Live in Tokyo.


From Oregon with Love (The Black Keys)


As part of this months theme, “Geography” I thought I would keep it local. I am a native Oregonian….that’s right NATIVE…not one of those obnoxious Californian transplants. The following is part 1 of several music seeking adventures in my lovely state and especially in Portland, Oregon.


We arrived at the Roseland Theatre at 8pm. Line was full of hard core Keys fans. I chatted with a nice Wisconsin College boy standing in front of me in line. He was alone and visiting Oregon. A college dorm friend had loaned him a Black Keys’ CD, and that was all it took. I didn’t bother to ask what had brought him to Oregon, but he mentioned that his visit had made him question his stay in Wisc.

8:20pm-we were past the metal detectors and survey of our belongings from the security guards. I made a bee line to the balcony for my pick of seats. I looked over the crowd gathering on the floor. I counted 3 hoodie clad youths already. One out of three of the boys sported the shaggy haircuts and skinny legged jeans that seem to be in vogue again. One of the boys had already made his way to the t-shirt vendors and was examining his new TBK tee. I noticed as he slipped the new shirt over his thermal that it was yellow with a large sunny side up egg on the front. It went well with his brown vintage blazer. Man, he must be warm! 1-2-3…young girls seemed to be accompanied to the show by their fathers (at least I hope it was their fathers). I glanced behind me. The frat boys in their ball caps and two days of beard growth were congregating next to the bar-hands clutching beers. Seated in the balcony around me I see through the dim light several Elvis Costello styled glasses framing faces.

On the stage were two prominently placed drum kits. It wasn’t had to figure out which one was Patrick’s (drummer for TBK). Oh no! I see a keyboard. That obviously must be the opening act, Beat Awake. I have never heard of them. I already had a bad feeling. Thoughts of the band Chicago shoot briefly through my head. They use keyboards. I saw Chicago on one of my first big dates in school. I doubled with another girl and her boyfriend. I can’t remember my dates name….what was it?....George! That’s right! Waiting for a show to start always brings the random thoughts out in me.

Anyway….as usual most of the concert goers closest to the stage appear to still be in high school. I mentally send out a high-five to them for their good taste in music. At least on the floor, the boys out number the girls 1 to 10. The girls remind me of the ones from my own high school days who listened to Def Leppard and were in the AV club. Maybe that is why I am so bitter about Chicago and keyboards. None of the guys I went out with were adventurous when it came to music…or other things for that matter.

Finally! The lights dim further. The opening act enters. They remind me of characters out of the film “Roger and Me” with their trucker hats, mustaches and overgrown hair. “Hi. We are Beat Awake from Kent, Ohio. Glad to be here in Portland. We have had so many friends who have recently moved here, and we can see why.” At this point they seem to wave at those same friends. I guess when you are the opening act it is wise to brown nose the audience a bit. As they began their set I understood why brown nosing was necessary. Oh, how I wanted to like them. They were young, taking a risk (as all musicians who dare to step on a stage), and dude…they were opening for The Black Keys which had to be tough. I don’t know maybe I just don’t like hippy, jam bands whose lead singer sounds like he is calling the pigs in for dinner. I decided to go down stairs to the main floor bar for a smoke (I remember when you could smoke anywhere in the Roseland). At least I had an excuse to leave for a bit.

While downstairs I continued to watch the act on the projection scene they have set up, but then decided to daydream a bit about my hours spent before the show. It was the first Thursday of the month which meant that all of the high-end art galleries in the loft-life infested “Pearl District” were holding their monthly open house. Gallery after gallery I had inspected how much you can sell the appearance of something special for. The best had to of been a piece of canvas covered with very semi-vintage ladies gloves that were merely tacked on with a couple of hand stitched. They were the kind of cheap knit fabric ones you can still find in most Good-Will clothing bins for a mere 25 cents. The wall of gloves covered a 5 X 7 space which by my estimates used about $125 dollars worth of gloves. The piece was priced at $1300. I don’t know if I will ever understand the pricing of art. Maybe it has something to do with all of the wine-sipping, women wearing look-at-my-ass-white jeans that were in almost every gallery. If you tell them it's art…the bimbos will buy it I guess. Soon after the gallery with the gloves we made the five block journey to the Roseland. As I rounded the final corner, I watched a woman in a mini-van make a crack deal and took my place in line. I had gone from the riches to the rags of the city in just a few minutes.

Snapping myself out of my daydream I crushed my cigarette out and went back upstairs. Beat Awake were just finishing up. Shortly after the stage was set, and then the lights went dim again. I had seen the Black Keys just a year earlier and I was just as excited as the first time. As the Black Keys made their first appearance of the night the entire venue exploded with welcomed cheers. The balcony and the entire place for that matter were now filled to capacity. Older concert goers now surrounded me in my balcony seat. As the Black Keys hit their first couple notes I felt myself blurt out “Fuck!” I couldn’t believe how good they sounded. I would repeat that word several more times throughout the show. I am not sure what it is about the Black Keys (especially their live show) or hearing the blues (which permeates much of the Black Keys sound) that is so amazing. But I heard it said somewhere “You have to emotionally be there. There is no music without the voice to share it.” I would have to agree. There is a connection to their music that is so passionate and honest. There is no “phoning in” a single word in their song, note of the guitar, or beating of the drums. “Stack Shot Billy” and “Girl is on my Mind,” was just as fresh and it seemed even more full of emotion and new musical nuances than the first time I heard it live. And when they played “Modern Times” and “Your Touch” (two new songs off their latest album, “Magic Potion” that was being released a week after the show) I knew I would have yet another favorite album to add to my collection.

The Black Keys certainly did not disappoint that night and I don’t think the audience disappointed them either. Dan mentioned before his final encore how much they enjoyed being back in town again. I suppose most bands say stuff like that, but I would like to think he really meant it. After all, we are talking about Oregon……