Lute alors

Right. Pay attention. Perception is on the blink again.

Right. Pay attention. Perception is on the blink again.

Once upon a time, there was a new wave band called the Police, fronted by an intense young man called Sting. The band's angular, melodic, undemanding pop sold by the million, making Sting and his fellows very rich indeed. After a while, the band split - they were all fairly bad-tempered young grumps, by the sound of it - but Sting made the most of it and had a successful solo career with self-important, mildly annoying guff about blue turtles and the Loch Ness monster.

There comes a time in any successful singer-songwriter's career where they seek fresh praise for new examples of their genius (Yes, Macca, we're looking at you and your Liverpool Oratorio. We haven't forgotten). Usually, this involves exotic tribesmen and odd-shaped instruments: in choosing to record the songs of Elizabethan/early Stuart court composer and lutenist John Dowland, Sting is following the formula but using time as the cultural separator rather than distance.

So far, so good. Or so bad - I can't stand the little squirt's vocal mannerisms at the best of times, and to hear him ejaculate all over stuff I'd otherwise enjoy does not make the best of anything. I caught a chunk of it on the radio, and I'd rather gargle with tofu.

However, that's not what struck me. It was far weirder than that.

Another fan of Dowland was Philip K Dick, a man who -- like Dowland -- takes a constant theme of melancholia in the face of an unfathomable and unmerciful universe and miraculously transforms it into dark grey joy at the beauty of simply being. Dick wove quite a few references to Dowland into his work - indeed, he predicted that pop stars would one day sing those songs - one of which was the song title "Flow, My Teares". That appeared in the title of "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said", one of my favourite PKD novels. It's simultaneously a love story, a meditation on the nature of fame, a phasmagorical essay on identity and perception in a frangible society, a record of the kind of drug experiences that did for Syd, and a clear-eyed, unsentimental autobiography. You don't get many of those.

Another Dickhead is one of Sting's contemporaries in the new wave pop scene, Gary Numan - who to date has not sought the company of Bosnian lute players. He cheerfully -- OK, bloody miserably -- ripped off PKD (and William Burroughs, and David Bowie, and plenty of others) for imagery as he wrote some classic songs of awkward alienation (many of which bear revisting in the light of his subsequent diagnosis of Asperger's - and bear up much better than accursed Sting warbling about weeping children and carbon 14 in coal mines. THERE IS NO CARBON 14 IN COAL - IT'S ALL DECAYED. There, I'm glad I've got THAT off my chest. The one good thing about Sting's musical career is that it got him out of teaching, where he could presumably have done a lot more damage).

And the very first line of the very first Tubeway Army record back in 1978 was "Flow my tears, the new police song". Now, nearly thirty years later, track 4 on the new Sting album is... well, guess.

Philip K Dick - still re-engineering reality from beyond the grave. Ya gotta love it.

Is it shroom season yet?

R

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