THE ART OF TEA

The on-line forum is a strange beast. Often it is a series of blokes (the record collector groups are almost all male, you know) taking turns at “show and tell”. The bargain of the century, my latest rarity, the best, the worst; there is no real dialogue or any genuine discussion but there is lots of boasting of the “mine’s bigger than yours” kind.

Yet one thing is for sure: the old adage – here updated to meet current social conventions – still applies… “One person’s carnivorous or non-animal (including dairy) diet is another person’s repast containing terminal levels of toxicity”.

Recently someone posted an invitation for members to share – and I reproduce the post verbatim – “The WORST song you ever heard.. I think pop-sickle toes is mine.”

Back to the instigator’s contribution in a moment. First I want to pause to note that the average number of responses to one of these on-line compare and compete sessions is around 10. At the time of writing this one has almost reached 100. Staggering. Provide a firearm and a barrel of fish then stand well back. Though I guess that is pretty much what I am doing here. Sheltering in the un-moderated domain of Vinyl Connection and taking pot-shots at Facebook groups. Bam! Fish for dinner.

After careful consideration I concluded that the person who started the Worst Song thread was not making reference to some sort of foot-slicing child of Edward Scissorhands. Indeed, I managed to clarify that the allusion was to “Popsicle Toes” by Michael Franks. Now it happens that I rather like Mr Franks’ cheeky ditty. Is this not an irresistible couplet?

You ought to be Miss Pennsylvania / with all this pulchritude

How come you always load your Pentax / when I’m in the nude?

Pentax K2, 1975 [Courtesy of Camerapedia]

Pentax K2, 1975 [Courtesy of Camerapedia]

Reverie follows as I drift back to when I first encountered Michael Franks.

There are eight cousins on my mother’s side and although my sister and I grew up having contact with the three who also lived in the suburbs of Melbourne, there were very few times when the New Zealand contingent were there too. So a late 70s restaurant diner for the whole crew was a big deal. To be honest, I have no memories whatsoever of the actual evening but it must have gone OK because what I do recall was being invited round to David’s home soon afterwards. It is something of a relief to remember this as it means that I can’t have made a total ass of myself at the all-cousin encounter.

Sometime after dinner David put a record on the turntable. It caught my ear with it’s lazy sensuality and cool jazzy inflections. ‘What’s this? I asked. He passed me the cover. The Art of Tea by someone called Michael Franks.

theartoftea

Needless to say I managed to acquire a copy soon afterwards and was quickly seduced by the sometimes carnal, always playful, sultry world of Mr Franks. I loved the clever rhymes and the arty allusions.

We touched like watercolour fawns

In landscapes painted by Cezanne

Or lovers floating

Painted by Chagall

 chagall-lovers-flight

At the back of my mind was a niggle that it was all a bit pretentious but as that was exactly what I was aspiring to the niggle was easily soothed. I wanted to leave the lonely island of frowny introversion and paddle across to the tropical warmth of the Isle of Tea where the conversation was witty and the women willing. If sometimes the humidity was more like photo-chemical smog, well never mind. Blurring the edges softens the image.

I never made it to the island but I did meet The Crusaders along the way. Half of this long-running jazz/jazz funk outfit backed Franks on The Art of Tea. Joe Sample’s keyboard playing was a particular delight. He made the electric piano coo and dance and that made me smile. Larry Carlton’s guitar is as effortless as a summer breeze. Their album Free as the Wind from the same year as Tea is a fabulous entry point both for the band and for jazz funk generally.

I followed Michael Franks for quite a few albums and continued to enjoy the same things that lured me in that first encounter. Not stopping with Cezanne and Chagall (still a favourite) he even introduced me to one of my favourite pieces of post-impressionist art, Henri Rousseau’s “Tropical Tempest” via a 1979 album. I can still remember the absolute thrill when I stumbled across this wonderfully evocative “primitive” canvas in London’s National Gallery. I sat, entranced, as the tiger fled before the storm, feeling the rain so vividly that I opened my umbrella and was soundly ticked off by a museum attendant. Not really, but it’s a great painting and worth seeking out if you are ever in London.

2nr0vup

Last week I got a call from cousin Paul in New Zealand. When we’d spoken recently I’d mused that it would be fascinating to have a gathering of the cousins some thirty-five years on. Paul took this on board and was ringing to say that he’d organised said gathering. Very impressive work, I reckon. It’s coming up soon and although I’m looking forward to re-meeting the cousins after half a lifetime, I’m also a little nervous. Will I navigate the sometimes confusing waters of family currents? How will these now ‘mature’ people connect across so many years? I wish Michael Franks was coming. He’d be cool and charming and urbane and he’d go down like a glass of fine Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. And that would be far indeed from the worst song in the world.

The Crusaders_Free as the wind_Sweet n' sour

 Sources

Michael Franks “The Art of Tea” [Reprise 1976]

Michael Franks “Tiger in the Rain” [Warner Brothers 1979]

The Crusaders “Free as the Wind” [MCA 1976]

Marc Chagall “Above the town” 1887

Henri Rousseau “Tiger in a tropical storm (Surprised!)” 1891

Feature Image: Marc Chagall “The Birthday” [edit] 1915

11 comments

  1. Not really so sure you’d want Michael Franks there, suave and sophisticated he may be but he’d definitely try it on with any female cousins there, on this showing at least.

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    1. Ha! Perhaps. But, you know, consenting adults make their own choices.

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  2. I really enjoy your writing style, Bruce. To coin a descriptor, it’s ‘pugnaciously fun’…I swear I meant it as a compliment! Also love the Chagall and Rousseau mentions and visuals. But….Michael Franks not so much. Or so I thought as I read through your piece. My own memories of Franks’ music from my teenage years weren’t favorable–his voice was so….wimpy! I pulled up some samples on iTunes to test my recall and I now realize that I wasn’t at all tuned in to the jazzy noodlings that backed the voice. I now consider myself re-educated. Thanks!

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  3. You are right about the bigger & better aspect of male blogging, records, cars, elephants doesn’t matter what it is. Somebody will post something bigger and better than the last blogger. Testosterone infusions on a keypad sound and look a lot like bragging. Sometimes the hardest things to write are when you expose a piece of yourself. But it’s funny when you do people get to know and respond. Nice post.

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  4. Another great piece, Bruce. I laughed out loud, literally, at the “aspiring to pretention” thing, since that was my goal in those days too, haha!

    Also, glad you reminded me about those Rousseau jungle paintings. I love those pictures and tried to imitate them back when I was a crappy, no-talent art student. They all turned out embarrassingly awful. Sort of like finger paintings with unidentifiable tropical looking stuff thrown in. Still hung them all over my dorm room though. Oh, the shame. 😉

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  5. I searched You tube for ‘Free As The Wind’, never having heard it and being curious to see what my placement of ‘The Art of Tea’ on the turntable had led to all those years ago. A worthwhile distraction, thank you Bruce.

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  6. The Prudent Groove · · Reply

    “… the conversation was witty and the women willing.” Can one reserve a dinghy to this Isle?

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    1. Plenty of nautical transportation but alas, the island was never actually located, leaving most explorers in something of an Ancient Mariner scenario.

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  7. Here’s hoping the re-cousining played out with calm seas and warm currents.

    Never had the self-confidence to aspire to pretension, but I am quite familiar with the lonely island of frowny introversion. Michael Franks I know not, and will leave it so. Instead, I’ll spend a bit basking in the angst-ridden haughtiness of one of my favorite authors.

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    1. Might add that epithet to my short-list for the gravestone.

      By the way, you don’t need self-confidence to be pretentious, just a tragic lack of self-awareness and an unjustifiably superior attitude to fellow homo sapiens.

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