inthemidstoflife”In the midst of life we are in death". The first time I heard the line was in the song "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" by The Smiths. "Poor woman / Strangled in her very own bed as she read / But that's o.k. / Because she was old and she would have died anyway". The song, literally dripping with heavy irony, was recorded in 1986. But the ambiguous words "in the midst of life we are in death" are very old. "Media vita in morte sumus" is the first line in an old Gregorian chant, read more here (opens in a new window). It's meant to mean that death is part of life. We have to accept this as a fact. Many people have, from different angles, come to the same conclusion. For example, the infamous Reverend Jim Jones in his famous last words "I haven't seen anybody yet that didn't die". Maybe there is a better afterlife. Then it's understandable that some people can't wait to die. The sooner the better. Most people, however, want to live a full life before they die. What "full" means varies depending on your mindset. The life-death relationsship is often represented in art, read more here (opens in a new window). The beautiful picture above is a skull optical illusion. The picture represents a woman full of life. Or not. The human skull is used universally as a symbol of death. Do you see life or death, or both? Maybe, this says something about you.  


   

EbaySCACimage”Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” These words are the wording of the famous fictive detective Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I came to think of the quote when two cds surprisingly arrived after more than eight weeks. Normally, it takes 2-3 weeks for a cd to arrive from the US. To lose a cd or two in the mail comes with collecting. It's inevitable. But some losses are bigger than others. The two cds weren't just any cds. The stakes were high: two rare SCAC albums: ”Crossbreedings Begins At Home” and their first self-titled and self-released album. Along with ”American Country Music Changed Her Life” (which I already had) they constitute a trinity in the SCAC catalogue. "Crossbreedings Begins At Home" is so rare, that I didn’t even bother to tick in the Wantlist-button on Discogs, which I normally do. However, improbable things do happen and one day it came up for sale on Ebay together with first self-released album(!). I just had to get them. It cost me $61 to win the auction over another bidder, $14.50 for the shipping and another $10 for import taxes and administrative fees. 

Sometimes it's a long and winding road to get from point A to point B. Unlike many Swedes, I hold the Swedish Postal Service very high in regard. It was founded in 1636. The reversed licence conditions specified that 85 per cent of all items of mail should be delivered overnight and 97 per cent within three days. The Swedish Postal Service used to reach this goal. Quite astonishing, since Sweden has a population density of 24 people per square kilometer (1 kilometer=0,62 miles). The postal service used to work very well. Then came three disastrous events: deregulation of markets and new competition, a decrease in mail volume and a history of poor decisions. The far worst executive decision was to merge with Post Denmark in 2009. Some critics think that the Swedish Postal Service might as well have merged with a bankruptcy estate. A downfall in service and reputation followed. The Swedish locution "as a mail in the post" for something that is safe and reliable has ironically turned into its opposite. The Swedish Postal Service is applying a new strategy. A pilot project will start in September 2020 with delivery every other weekday instead of every weekday. However, I don't think the Swedish Postal Service is to blame in this case. They're not that bad. In fact, they are extremely effective when it comes to collect import taxes and charge administrative fees for my imported cds. Who's to blame then? A prime suspect is an anonymous US postal worker. The low work ethic and, to say the least, dubious working methods of postal worker Newman from the television show Seinfeld is forever etched in my mind. He didn't submit to the unofficial motto for US postal workers is "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." On second thought, postal worker Newman is probably not very representative for USPS and they are hereby cleared. I started to speculate about what happened. One imaginative sequence of events after another. We tend to prefer complicated hypotheses to simple ones. But, always look for the simple solution. The cds were never lost, only delayed or disrupted due to the coronavirus. Probable, and quite possible.     


 

498One of my tricks to keep me informed of what’s going on in the genre is to follow artists on Bandcamp. To "follow" means that I get an update whenever there’s any news. I don't get news very often. Business is slow. The genre is slowly but surely evaporating into thin air. On May 13th 2020 a most unexpected event occured. Black River Brethren released a new digital album. Their one and only EP "Anatomy of a Gun" was released in 2009 on defunct Devil’s Ruin Records. In an e-mail Darrell Brown (who plays mandolin, banjo, dobro among other instruments) explains: "I have been wanting to put this out for quite some time. The five song Anatomy of a Gun EP that we released - first independently and then on the independent label Devil's Ruin Records - was a single snapshot of the Black River Brethren. Due the fact that dark roots music (or whatever you want to call the underbelly of alt-country) wasn't really a "thing" when we were heavily engaged in writing, rehearsing, and recording our material (one venue was excited to have a "creepy country band" in the local scene) combined with life circumstances, we just never got around to getting all of our material out there ...I thought it was high time to let the world in on a little more of the world of the Black River Brethren. And hey, there might be a few more tracks to see the light of day in the future...". The new album is titled ”From Behind the Cellar Door (demos)”. I wavered back and forth whether I should write a review. In the end, I decided not to. The new album is more of a compendium than a thematic album. However, compendium or not, the album showcases their versatility and songwriting skills. 

BRBThe band members of Black River Brethren isn’t exactly close neighbours. Some of them had, at the time of the recordings, to drive a long distance for rehearsals. In the e-mail Darrell Brown explains the process: "a part of our process was when an individual songwriter wrote a new song that they wanted to introduce to the band (there are three primary song writers in the band), to make things easier, we would create a scratch track to share with everybody else so we could familiarize ourselves with the song and begin our own creative contributions so that when we came together, we could learn material quickly. This isn't to say that there hasn't always been great collaboration as well." The album contains alternate versions of ”Something Wicked" and "You Must Be The Devil" from the Anatomy of a Gun EP. Darrell Brown explains: "I thought including the two previously released tracks showed nice characters that aren't necessarily present on the EP versions, namely, the folk qualities of Something Wicked (nicely accentuated by the cello) and the raw/ruckus energy of You Must Be The Devil live (it really is a great song live!). Ultimately, there's a certain honesty to these recordings that I am glad was caught along the way." I agree. Other than these songs there are a couple of nuggets on the album like ”Army of the Dead”. It is based on a ghost legend Darrell Brown found in a book he picked up in Charleston, South Carolina called The Doctor to the Dead Grotesque Legends and Folk Tales of Old Charleston (John Bennett). The songs ”Governor Boggs” and ”Bordertown” also stand out. Other songs on the album have a softer expression, almost leaning towards alt-country.

The survival rate in the gothic country genre is disturbingly low. Therefore, it’s equally surprising and encouraging to find out that Black River Brethren is soldiering on. "While there's life, there's hope", said Cicero. In the email I finally asked Darrel Brown about the status of the band. He replied: "the Black River Brethren still exist. Will be playing live any time soon? Probably not. Is there more music? Sure there is. Beyond the songs on Behind the Cellar Door, there are other BRB songs that are still worth sharing with the world, as well as music from other projects by BRB members that are currently bubbling their way to the surface, so stay alert, because the Black River Brethren story isn't over...".


bestinvestmentever30 years ago I bought a small condo. It was a real safe investment. At least, that's what the real estate agent told me when he shook my hand after closing the deal. I remember him clearly. He had small sweaty chipolata fingers and a serious scurf problem. In fact, his worn-out club blazer with gold-coloured buttons was covered with it. A couple of years later I started a family and we needed a bigger rented apartment. Of course, this coincided with a bank-, finance- och housing crisis in Sweden, not completely unlike the US subprime mortgage crisis of 2007–2008. I lost more than half of my "investment". The new condo owner, who knew perfectly well of my unfortunate situation, was a tactless greedy woman. She had the nerve to ask me if she could have the padlock to the cellar storage. However, I still had some self-respect and dignity left in me and declined: "the padlock isn't included". Proud but poor. I was left with a padlock and a debt. It took some years to get out of debt. "We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience." said George Washington. Live and learn. Some people have a natural instinct for making more money from money. This isn't me. I clearly haven't got the right disposition and, maybe more important, the slightest interest.       

That being said, even a blind hen sometimes finds a grain of corn. I'm extremely satisfied with the purchase of two gadgets, a hairclipper and an Ipod. Let's start with the hairclipper. In 1994 I made it happen and bought myself a Moser electric harclipper. My thick wavy hair was by then long gone and I did not really have a hairstyle (I cut my hair once a week so the money I have saved over the years isn't negligible). The Moser electric hairclipper Type 1400 just goes on and on with a buzzing and reassuring sound. A drop of oil now and then is all that it asks for. Let's go over to the Ipod. Most people struggle to maintain one's self-image. I'm no exception. In my lofty inner monologues I'm an owner of an old high-end system, read more here (opens in a new window). The truth is that nowadays I listen far more often to music on my old Ipod Touch than on the high-end system. I bought the Ipod in 2009 and thought that it was another throwaway electronic device from China. It was 3rd generation and state of the art at the time. It still functions after more drops to the floor than I can count and endless playing hours. The Ipod even survived an update of new software a couple of months ago. One by one the apps have ceased to work. It doesn't matter. I'm only interested in the Itunes app, which is Apple's most hated app. The computer-device interaction leave a lot to be desired. Transferring and synchronizing is hell on Earth. My advice to you: whatever yo do, choose manual synchronization. The user-friendliness comes once you have transferred your files to the Ipod. The price was very high in 2009, but if you distribute the cost over time, and especially over total playing time, it turns out to be together with the Moser electric hairclipper, the best return on investment ever. 


toocIn the 1970s Swedish pop and rock magazines flooded the market. They were quickly taken out of circulation. To be honest, the Swedish magazines were only pale copies of more renowned international magazines. The German music magazine POP, read more here (opens in a new window) was the role model that almost everyone tried to copy. I occasionally bought POP, which was associated with the routine of decipher the grammar and looking up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. The new Swedish epigones were bleak at best and terrible at worst. Layout was definitely not their strong suit. Some of the magazines clearly focused more on idolship than on music, for example Tiffany and ZIP. Donny Osmond was asked what he thought about sex before marriage. Not unexpectedly, Donny didn't approve. Other artists were more outspoken. Suzi Quatro, in her one-piece black leather suit, revealed that she chose to play bass guitar because it felt so good between her legs. Moreover, the image-oriented magazine "Poster" was founded by Hans Hatwig, a German publisher who began his career in pornographic publishing. Sex was never explicit, but always implied. One of the magazines achieved some kind of publishing record. Idolposten managed to launch and to crash and burn in the same year, 1974. The best magazines were GO and ZONK. ZONK leaned towards hard rock and is by many regarded as the first proper Swedish pop and rock magazine. GO and ZONK had journalistic ambitions. In other cases, the meager editorial material seems to have been imported and, thereafter, poorly translated. The content was based on servility, banality and stupidity with an obvious lack of tonality. It gets awkward when adults try to communicate with teenagers in a personal note. Another attribute was the total lack of order, structure and discernment. Boyband-jerks like Bay City Rollers had the same status as giants like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Unbelievable. The photos are etched in my memory. Some of the photos were fabulous and taken by the famous Swedish photographer Torbjörn Calvero, read more here (opens in a new window). However, most photos were mundane to say the least. The artists were depicted "as they were", which meant doughy, flabby, tired, and pale-cold-sweaty-hang-over faces. At the time, nothing escaped the harsh truth of the camera eye. This was long before any image process software existed.  

The history of Swedish pop and rock magazines in the 1970s remains to be written. Some very basic but nevertheless important work has been carried out by a Swedish website, read more here (opens in a new window). It contains a brief introduction, publisher, year class and all covers of the magazines published from the early 1970s and onwards. Sometimes the hip magazines come up for sale at Tradera (Swedish Ebay). I never place a bid. But, I admire the dedication to document for posterity. After all, this is also what I do.     


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