The End of the Ancient World

Free Mp3 – Useless Life

Once, when I was an undergraduate in History in the early nineties, I had this bizarre anti-epiphany about life and knowledge while I was in the library.

The exact trigger for the episode was a book called The End of the Ancient World and the Beginning of the Middle Ages by Ferdinand Lot. While the library did have this French edition, the edition I used was an authoritative, blue-bound hard-back from Oxford UP, whose very appearance promised definitive solutions to an essay due at the end of the week.

I think it must have been the OUP cover insignia that did it for me – many other books in the section were equally weighty, but that one, above all, called out to me and said:

You will never write a book like me. You will never read enough to know enough to write it, and even if you did, you would never be able to write it down. And even if you did, you would never get it published. And even if you did, you will never get it published by a major university press and have copies distributed around the world.

Don’t get me confused with Mark C., the guy at my university who actually did hear the books talking to him and is now on sickness benefit. This was just a feeling, but a very strong one, and one which made me leave the library in haste, feeling quite useless. I did not get that essay in.

As the years have gone by I have told myself that my skills lie in other areas. You know the drill: Herculean labours are not for me, I am a mercurial and whimsical critic, relying more on nuance than on stodgy completist scholarship to produce my masterwork, etc. (A masterpiece which, of course, is yet to be produced. And then published. By a major publisher.)

While studying medievalism, I had scumbag friends. One in particular, Janet C., had a heroin addiction which probably predated Ferdinand Lot, and often used to have trouble walking upright, not due to heroin but a combination of alcohol and methadone. She once told me she was quite happy to be useless but didn’t want her friends to be that way; her idea of the perfect day was one in which she could get drugged up and then just lie there on the couch while we played music, or talked about what we wanted to do with our lives.

Somehow, those two things sum up a place I’ve been, in one way or another, most of my life; not happy being useless, but not willing to chuck it in either, just slowly working away at things to better myself, a process that seems to take forever. And part of me is always wanting to hang out with the sort of people who haven’t got the slightest intention of “making something of themselves”, just because that sort of company can be so much more fun than being with stressed out career-heads; but then inevitably I wind up feeling on the outer, because in another way, I can’t relate to that. I’d love to make something of myself.

So anyways this song, Useless Life, is about all that. It has a little banjo, for those that dig it, but it’s mostly about the lyrics:

Someone figured out how to put a man in space

But you still ain’t got the world right

Someone figured out the circumference of the earth

And you can’t even walk straight

I think I’d like to come along with you

You could show me how to get nothing done

But you’d probably get bored with me

You probably got no use for me at all

I envy you

Even though you think you never know what to do

Just because you’re happy to be useless

Because you’re happy to lead a useless life.

Oh, by the way, I’m moving to Australia next week.  And thanks to Janet for recent kind words, and to Kevin Dunn, who has been giving me props, and playing my tunes on his podcast.


Steve McK, November 14 2008


A Career in Virtue

Great Southern Steve – A Career in Virtue (mp3)

Here’s some more banjo folk from the Live at Home album, as a few folks liked the Golden Retriever tune from a few posts back.

This song, however, is anything but jaunty, although it does have kind of sombre sea-shanty thing going on. It’s based on a banjo riff I wrote when I was about nineteen. It’s worth remembering the things you wrote when you are nineteen because they are often more natural than things you write later.

Anyway, I had in mind for the lyrics the character of a priest in a remote location, who had brought his wife along, promising glory in the service of God, but delivering misery in the service of his alcoholism.

Yes, I know, what a cheery thing to write about. I’m such a ray of sunshine.

The final part was written over here in Melanesia. ‘Blacktop’ is what they call a ‘tar’ road, to distinguish between that and most of the roads, which are just dirt. It is dusty, hot and everyone drinks too much.

Anyway here it is.

So starch my collar up and bring my liquor down

And I’ll kill the memories that dog my days

Even if I’d lived across the other side of town

I’ll bet this would have happened anyway

I gave up a career in virtue

For the chance to hold you by my side

I promised that nothing could hurt you

Sweet innocence,

You know I lied.

Local Heroes Sw9 – Drip Dry Zone

Buy it from Amazon...

Buy it from Amazon...

In the heady year of 1980, when I was ten, Kevin Armstrong (guitar, vox), Kim Barti (drums), and Matthew Seligman (bass) recorded and released a hidden classic of British post-punk, the album Drip Dry Zone. The trio were later joined by Thomas Dolby on synths for a subsequent release called New Opium, before Dolby went solo, Armstrong decided to become a session musician rather than a front man, and Seligman continued with the Soft Boys and then also turned to session work.

I know it is a cliché to say that bands “should have gained more recognition” when all you really mean is that you like them. So, to cut to the chase, I really like this band. They have hints of XTC, the Clash, the Soft Boys, the Jam, and the Police, but with a great deal of their own charm. The bass playing is wonderful and the guitar is layered and intricate, the songs well written, the singing grainy and emotive and very English. All in all, the sound is a winner.

Local Heroes SW9 were a British post-punk band not afraid of being clever, and this may have cost them the exposure that many lesser and more derivative acts attracted.  But it’s not too late. Check out these two tracks, and if you want to buy the album (really, it’s all good), click the cover to go to Amazon, or start by reading this thread at Charlie Gillett’s website. It tells the story of how the digital re-release of the two albums was inspired, and contains posts from Armstrong himself on its creation.



A Little Dog Called Snuckles

Mp3 link: Passenger Dreams.

Do you remember falling asleep in the back of a car, the sunlight flicking through your eyelids when the car went past trees, the radio on just above the hum of the engine, the driver silent? Best thing.

To me it seemed a good thing to write a song about, too. It’s another song built around a groovy bass riff.

This mp3 is a recent mix down of the track, which is actually about three years old – the vocals were one of the first things Lee and I did together. It is supposed to be bassy and moody, but not quite so much as this mp3 would lead you to believe, as some of the definition has gone from the instruments in the rip process.

There’s lot of weird stuff hidden in the deep background, as I wanted to give it a dreamy, subconscious feel. In particular I have inserted at various points an mp3 of a famous blooper from U.S. AM Radio stalwart Casey Kasem, in which he gets angry about being set up to give a dedication about someone’s dog dying (a little dog called Snuckles) right after having come out of a happy ‘up-tempo ‘number. Not realizing the mike is still on, Kasem totally loses his shit and berates the studio tech guys with all sorts of demands (and foul language).

It’s pretty good to hear, especially for those of us who grew up with his voice representing a kind of smug and distinctly American self-control.

Something we can all understand...

Something we can all understand...

Seeing as it’s mixed so quietly in the song (it is in there, believe me…) you might want to listen to the mp3 on its own. It is here.

Keep your feet on the ground, Casey.

All Our Creepy Needs

Planeteer Diaspora member Jason Katison once commented that if we need a creepy weirdo in a film, Steve Buscemi meets all our needs. I know a good line when I hear one and this song came shortly afterwards.

Do you remember that movie when he played a nerd? Or, come to think of it, can you remember one when he didn’t? I think it might have been that crappy one with Sandra Bollock in rehab.

He’s a big wheel in The Sporanos now too but I have to suspend my disbelief that Tony Soprano would take him seriously, I still think of him as Chet in Barton Fink. Tony, don’t you realise who that is? It’s not your cousin, it’s the Busc!

Oh, and apparently it’s ‘Boosh Shem I’ but I didn’t know that, did I? Everyone I know says Sheem.

Genre Warning: This is Punk Rock a la Johnathan Richman, i.e. not very punk, or very rock, especially with those keyboards. Also, it still has a very sudden ending. It just cuts out right in the middle of

Would You Believe It?

Mp3 link – Getting Smarter.

Would you believe that they’ve made a Get Smart movie? No? Well how about a Get Smart play? No? How about a picture of a guy with a shoe?

But alas, it’s not one of those glorious Don Adams gags. They really have made a movie of Get Smart. And would you believe, it really sucks? I bet you would.

Why are they (those ageing, cynical Hollywood moguls) going back through all my finest childhood memories of TV, comics and movies and systematically kicking the crap out of them? Hey, it wasn’t even made in my childhood. My mum used to watch that show in her twenties. It was only ever second-hand humour to me, and even as kid I knew that it was timeless precisely because it was so much a product of its time. Don’t they understand that shows like Get Smart were only funny because they were period-pieces, because actors like Adams managed to satirise their own times as well as being very much a part of them? That kind of thing can’t be replicated. It’s like trying to, well, it’s like trying to make a Get Smart movie and have it be any good. Why bother?

Here’s my own tribute to Adams and Co, a rocked up fast-tempo parody of the theme tune, with some sound bites from the show and some fine sax playing by Greg Osman. It’s a slightly ‘boxy’ recording and the Mp3 rip hasn’t helped but it still gets the point across.

Incidentally if you want the original soundtrack, go to and while you’re there, check for most of the sound files I used in here.

This tune was the opening track on the Strange But True CD.



I’m a Golden Retriever

Mp3 link – Golden Retriever.

My long-standing ambition to write a tune for Sesame Street resulted in this song, Golden Retriever.

I love guide dogs, often more so than their owners, and was imagining an old-style, flickery super-8 film to complement this clunky acoustic folk track about the noble beasts. But the Sesame Workshop has gone very modern and the music is hip hop, as recent viewers will note. I guess they have to cater to what kids are interested in now, and don’t have time for their old fans any more, probably rationalizing this on the basis that people in their thirties should no longer be watching the show. Point is, they just don’t have time for the old-style folk any more. Even so I might send them a copy.

The song is from an album of folksy-rock I did in 2006-2007 called Live at Home. Other than sending a copy of it to my mate Soursob Bob, I haven’t done much with it so far but might put the cover art and more tracks up at some point.

Lyrics – extract

Oh when I grow up I’d like to be a seeing eye dog

When I grow up I’d like to change the world

But there’s so many muddy fields i want to explore

Sometimes I think I’ll never change the way I’ve been since I was born

I’m a Golden Retriever

I said I like to retrieve

And I will go anywhere you want

Just so long as my leash will reach

I can do anything

that a doggy can nominally do

Just so long as I can see you throw

Then I will bring it on back to you

You better believe that I like to retrieve…

(pant pant)