Saturday, 6 March 2010

a little history

so... a little history

some twelve years ago now, a friend at university played to me with visible glee a rather nondescript flexidisc he'd found lurking in a charity shop. it was put out by the open university, britain's premier distance learning organisation, and on first listen seemed to be little more than a jolly, if rather bizarre, series of folk songs for children. but then... this one singer came on who just seemed to be *not quite right*. there wasn't anything discernibly wrong with him, but he just sounded... a little too severe, a little too testy, a little too grumpy and even a little too camp to pass as harmless comedy fluff. his handful of songs stood out for this faint air of menace, giving off this image of a man who probably believed himself to be a born educator and entertainer for children but deep down probably felt he was slumming it. and the apex of this record, the most bizarre and unsettling moment of them all, was a folk song called "we will go to the common swings". certainly it wasn't any kind of folk song i'd ever heard of before, but what seared it into my mind on first play was how sinister the man made these common swings sound - so that you spent the whole duration wondering whether it was a location or simply a class issue

i taped the record (stupidly fiddling with the speed every now and then because i foolishly thought this would make it funnier - nothing of the kind. it ruined the thing really) but have long since lost it. but that one song... that one vivid and peculiar song has never left me. the image of "the common swings" became so vividly bizarre and unusual, that i sort of co-opted the title as to be used for an ongoing project of uncertain content. at first it was a fanzine, based solidly on my view that there was nothing funnier than very tenuous puns on rock stars and british comic characters from the 1930s to 1950s. that died on the vine. then it was to be a webpage of some description, again with vague puns and badly written reviews of whatever enthused me that day. that vaguely struggled into being for a few weeks and then, similarly, died a death. then it was a more general thing for a while - an aim to be spontaneous and just jot down a week's worth of ideas and have some product at the end. it became soon very apparent that i didn't do spontaneity very well. so that died a death as well (although i do have a lot of it still lurking around the place. it's very odd and seemingly 70% obsessed with the idea that jandek is intrinsically a very funny subject for comic strips. worry not - they won't be seeing the light of day in any hurry). and then it just became... well, basically a stick to beat my own back with. this looming title of never discernible content that i just never finished. at all. ever

and then blow me down. if i didn't go and complete something. various little amusements all seemed to come together and as it was basically ten years since i first had the idea to do something under the title of "the common swings", it was wheeled out again. but this time... this time, it's actually finished. something special. something tangible. something you can hold in your hands and read - well less read, more squint - at your leisure. and here it is. for you. to enjoy, or at least gaze at quizzically for as long as you see fit

i hope you enjoy it

and as a rather nice coda to this story, the woman i get a lift home with from work was telling me about a month or so ago of an unusual record a friend of hers had picked up. she knew i liked my odd records and thought i might be interested. some sort of open university flexidisc of undetermined origin with strange, unsettling folk songs for children on it... needless to say once i get my hands on it, i'll be ripping it to mp3 so you call join me on a trip to the common swings

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