Along came a spider
Flushing the toilet yesterday, my mind turned to poisonous spiders.
Dad used to travel far distances for work, and spent a lot of time in Australia. At some time in the early 70s he returned to the UK with a 45 rpm EP entitled “How did the Redback Die?” by an Australian country and western singer named Slim Newton.
Even as I was typing that last paragraph I was wondering whether anyone outside the US is morally entitled to consider themselves a country and western musician? I imagine that a true C&W singer has to have grown up in the shadow of wherever the Grand Ole Opry stage currently is. Surely you have to have bluegrass in the veins, or at least to have made a pilgrimage to Nashville, Tennessee. (Remember the line from the Blues Brothers? “Oh, we got both kinds; we got country and western.”)
I thought it was rather like the rule that a true Cockney has to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells. Steve Harley – the Cockney Rebel guy – was born in Deptford. It is debatable whether that falls within the cockney area, but it may be a little late to complain now. Anyway, he deserves a link: the wonderful album The Best Years of Our Lives was a classic, featuring Make me Smile (Come up and See Me), and the marvellous title track.
Back to legitimate musical nomenclature. In fairness I don’t know whether Slim Newton ever called himself a country and western singer. He probably prefers “country”, and I can accept that. I suppose that “western” is the element which is US-specific. The Western is certainly one of America’s crowning cultural glories – and there is, I promise you, not a trace of irony in that. Unforgiven, High Noon, Shane, Open Range, Destry Rides Again… I need say no more. Neither need I point out (but I’m going to anyway) the amount of seriously good music written to accompany westerns. Never mind that fact that The Magnificent Seven is a classic movie (with tension, wide-open spaces, hard riding and sharp-shooting, and the baldest cowboy in the West) the score independently deserved its Oscar nomination. Yeee-hah…
Anyway: back to Slim Newton, who made himself famous in Australia with a cautionary tale entitled The Redback on the Toilet Seat – and if you’re of a squeamish disposition you may wish to have a responsible adult with you while listening. It was followed not very much later by the EP which crossed the world in Dad’s suitcase when we were young. By that time, Slim’s oeuvre was probably settled: his legacy is at least three songs based on the lavatory-related demise of redback spiders.
Looking around for something else to share with you on this subject, I thought I’d come unstuck – I really don’t know much spider-based music. And then hit upon Le festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast) by Albert Roussel. It’s a 20th Century ballet – though since I’m not the greatest of ballet lovers I treat it as an orchestral suite – a sort of creepy-crawlies version of the Carnival of the Animals (speaking of which, here are some Persons with Long Ears, and a famous narrator).
This year Richard has done us the favour of getting us some utterly lovely Australian in-laws. Perhaps they are in a position to enlighten me – do redbacks really hide in the loo and bite you on the backside? If it’s true, don’t tell Mrs simonsometimessays (I’m assuming she’s not reading this herself). You might never get her to visit. Spiders would without doubt be in her Room 101; venomous ones that make for your rear end when you are least protected might send her beyond recovery.
One final offering from the world of country and western – and an unlikely one: The Killers. I’ve mentioned previously their association with the ProductRed movement, and 2011’s contribution was their single The Cowboys Christmas Ball. Worthwhile, cheery and very catchy: I love it. And where better to end than with that seasonal teaser for the soon-to-be-among-you santasometimessays. Get your stockings from the back of the wardrobe, but don’t forget to give them a good shake. Something crawly and hairy may be lurking inside.