Monday, November 01, 2010

Music Monday ~ Scott Walker ~ Jacques Brel ~"Cute in a stupid-ass way"

Who remembers Scott Walker, once of The (non-fraternal) Walker Brothers? Perhaps he's better known in the UK than in his native USA. My husband, who has usually heard of even the most obscure artists from the 1960s, doesn't recall this one, who is (or was) a household name in Britain.

Scott Walker, real name Scott Engel, is US-born, to German parents. His sensibilities do seem to be more in tune with those on the other side of the Atlantic. Much of his career, and all of his successes have been in Britain and Europe. He has lived in the UK for more than 40 years.

I remember him, and his gorgeous voice, very well.

Although he is of the same generation as the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and was in at the start of the whole rock and roll shindig, as well as the crazy psychedelic period, he seems never to have been bitten by either bug. He remained aloof from it all, following Thoreau's famous advice: If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Scott Walker seemed more like a throw-back to past decades, more akin to Sinatra, Jack Jones and other crooners than to his contemporary rockers.....yet he was different, even from the standard crooners.
He heard the sound of Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel (right) early on, and was smitten.

In his "Brel-period" he recorded English translations of some of Brel's best songs, making them far more accessible to the English ear, and for me, doing a better job than the songs' originator. (I should run and hide from Brel fans for saying so.) To listen to Jacques Brel singing, for any length of time, I'd need to be in a dimly-lit, sleazy Paris bar... and "feeling no pain".

Most of Scott's albums indicate that he has been drawn to some rather odd and depressing subject matter, concentrating heavily on the darker side of life, and death. Melancholia and gloom pervade his atmosphere, yet still it's not unpleasant, in a cry-in-your-beer kind of way. His smooth voice WAS very moorish.

After British successes with The Walker Brothers and some solo success, life in the spotlight became too much for Scott. He found relief in a monastery at one point, later remaining a virtual recluse for many years. He re-appeared in the mid 1990s with some even odder material than before (detailed in Wikipedia's page), upon which I'll not linger, other than to note that his three most recent albums, Climate of the Hunter; Tilt; and Drift have been categorised as "art rock, experimental or Baroque pop". In 2006 a documentary film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man premiered.

My best memory of Scott Walker will always be his English version of Brel's Jackie (video below).

Does his natal chart indicate his somewhat enigmatic nature, his taste for the morbid, or downright strange, in music? Is there an astrological link to Jacques Brel perhaps?

What stands out for me: Grand trine in Air signs which he shares with many of his age group (including moi). In Scott's case the generational trine between Neptune and Uranus links to personal planets Mercury and Venus in Aquarius - connecting this Airy circuit of mavericky creativity to art and communication, so it becomes extra- specially relevant in his personality and in his music.

Sun in Capricorn reflects a serious nature, though not necessarily morbid, or reclusive. To pinpoint that side of Scott's nature we go back to the Grand Trine and note that Saturn lay conjunct Uranus as he was born, and Pluto lay in opposition to Mercury/Venus. The presence of these two potential dampers (Saturn and Pluto) on an otherwise positive configuration explains Scott's early retreat from the spotlight, and his draw to darker, melancholic themes. While Saturn/Uranus conjoined explains how Scott's music can be categorised by the opposing terms "experimental" and "Baroque" (as at Wikipedia). Saturn hooked up to Uranus -the old hooked up to the new!

Watery Pisces Moon and Cancer rising underscore a deeply emotional and sensitive character, which I think can be seen from his young face, and sensed from many of his vocals.

As for an astrological link to Jacques Brel, it can be found in Brel's ascendant - 9 degrees Aquarius, very close to Scott's Mercury/Venus; and in their common Pisces Moon.

Excerpt: (BBC originally banned the song due to these and other lyrics)

My name would then be handsome Jack
And I'd sell boats of opium
Whisky that came from Twickenham
Authentic queers
And phony virgins
If I had banks on every finger
A finger in every country
And every country ruled by me
I'd still know where I'd want to be
Locked up inside my opium den
Surrounded by some china men
I'd sing the song that I sang then
About the time they called me "Jacky"

If I could be for only an hour
If I could be for an hour every day
If I could be for just one little hour
Cute in a stupid ass way

And Scott with another Jacques Brel song, Amsterdam


R J Adams said...

Never a great fan of Walker, even with the other 'Bros', and I much prefer John Denver's strident rendition of 'Amsterdam'. Interesting trip down memory lane, though.

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~~ I'm glad he's remembered by someone, even if not a fan of his. I could hardly call myself a fan either, but I found him (and the Bros) pleasant enough to listen to, and his voice did have "a certain something" back then.

John Denver's version of anything is always okay by me! :-)

Wisewebwoman said...

Yes I always liked that song by the Walker Bros, I think I know the lyrics off by heart, so you are not alone.
But I'm with RJA on Amsterdam, JD did a better job.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Went to YouTube to hear JD's version again - yes - good one! Then I went on and listened to Jacques Brel's Hebrew version which is interesting.

Dang - that tune will be skipping around my head all day now! ;-D

The Next President of the United States said...

Always nice to hear someone bring up The Walker Brothers and Scott Walker. In the USofA, they had a brief moment at the time I was going into high school and I really fell for 'em. Not a huge name in this country, although "Make It Easy on Yourself" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" were top 20 hits, and both songs get played a lot on "classic rock" radio to this day. (Gawd, it's so interesting to have the soundtrack of my life referred to as "classic.")
Anyway, Bros. version of "My Ship Is Coming In" snuck into the Top 100 in the U.S. and then they were gone.
I think I was attracted because of Scott's voice and because the music seemed a blend of Righteous Brothers "blue-eyed soul" and Roy Orbison drama. Few years ago, good friend gave me "After The Lights Go Out," which is a compilation of Walker Bros. songs from '65-67 that was released in UK in the '90s. Among the 22 tunes, there's a fine version of Jerry Ragovoy's blues classic "Stay With Me Baby" and a tune called "Love Her" that I'd bet was a hit among the Brits.
Scott is still out there making music. Same friend sent a cut of a single Walker released in the past 2 years and his voice is still compelling.

Twilight said...

TNPOTUS ~ Hi there!

Good! Someone from this side of the pond who remembers Scott and the Bros. If anybody would, it'd be you TNPOTUS - marinated in music aren't ya? :-)

It's all in the voice, yes. There's a certain quality that I can't describe in words...even in his speaking voice. It's a quality some radio presenters/newsreaders have (in the UK anyway). Timbre? Tone? I suppose, but not exactly.
Maybe it's to do with a control of the vocal chords that some people have naturally, while some others have to struggle to achieve it.
In Scott's case it's not even a particularly deep masculine voice, just.....I don't know...good!