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The deep-song looking glass of the world – Lee Mavers and The La’s

By the end of writing this piece, I had the feeling that my entire being was thrumming, vibrating with a kind of singular joy of being and feeling that really only the most special music creates.  It was also that the feeling included a sense of luck, that to live in the same world as the expressions and being of someone like Lee Mavers can lead to an appreciation of the most profound kind, as one appreciates a most welcome guest, or a most giving and extraordinary guide, that we have by luck stumbled upon in the dark forest night.

Most everyone is to some degree aware of the music of The La’s and this is often the product of their hit ‘There she goes’ a singular, stunning moment in the world of guitar pop.

There have been countless bands that have emerged since the 60’s with a take on guitar pop, many instantly and unfavourably swallowed in the vapour trail of depth and range that the Beatles left in their wake.  Its fair to say that the Beatles still loom over both rock and guitar pop – they opened a space for music which would incorporate tunes and sounds from across the world and gave space to both drone (Within you without you) and loop based experimentalism (Tomorrow Never Knows has always sounded like the future).

The trajectory of the Beatles established that the writing of pop could easily be seen alongside more experimental styles.  Rock, arriving as it did as an anti-establishment social-sonic movement, always initially laid claim to having an edge, in its volume, in its distorted sound, in its overt (and primarily male) sexuality, an anthemic / expressive of youth marginalised by the dead weight of society and power, the crush of socialised repression.  And yet r n r easily became incorporated past its socially conservative 50’s opponents and subsequently mutated through different movements (glam, punk, prog, post-punk, post rock etc.) until its aesthetic became as much about the acceptability of re-cycled sound and image as anything edgier.  Perhaps the legacy of rock as a distented article in the hands of corporate patrons is that its story has been about the maintenance of its claim of authenticity still being possible while its sonic past is consistently plundered and re-plundered as new and still relevant.

It might be possible to say that the legacy of the Beatles on Liverpool especially was to create a void through which little could emerge as genuinely eventful.  Perhaps the most convincing acts since have been among The Boo Radleys, Elvis costello, Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie goes to Hollywood, OMD and Julian Cope.

Some of these produced excellent music, some consistently made hits and some even created sustained careers and forged material that has continued to resonate with a depth of sound and songwriting.  But few it seems to me have gone to the depth of music making where there is a clear connection out past the conviviality of a good, high energy tune or searing love song.

Lee Mavers, songwriter and force-of-La’s-nature brought something else.  Their trajectory over time, after first emerging in the mid to late 80’s, reveals a conspicuous drop out following the acrimonious release of their first (and only to date) studio recorded album, the eponymous ‘The La’s’.   The songwriting of Mavers has not seen release since then within the music industry (with its ancillary hype vectors of media and music journalism).

Any kind of reading about the band during the mid 80’s and early 90’s (before they effectively disbanded for twenty years in 1992), when their fame and output were surfacing, reveals that Mavers became increasingly disillusioned with the containment of public perception and stories.  He was described as enthusiastic and open in early interviews, becoming gradually less so as time went on, while stories of drug and alcohol at certain points in the 90’s were also indicated as impacting negatively (or most certainly so with regard to live performances).

It has also been easy to paint the image of a songwriter whose demands and stringent expectations were continually being undercut by the record company and media.  Mavers famously never approved of the sound of the La’s studio album, which involved prolonged re-recordings and disputes with the record company Go! Discs.

Despite numerous efforts to bring an acceptability to the sound, the eventual release of their album in 1990 while critically lauded, failed to make a significant impact in sales and Mavers remained deeply critical.  It does seem there’s a certain flatness to the mixes, but that the songs still by and large absolutely transcend this.

The internet has continued to provide La’s material from the time of their being active, some of it involving alternative takes as with the Timeless Melody above (the deleted vinyl/acetate version) which has a stronger depth and resonance to the sound and its chiming guitars, or live versions that just prefigure the internet and the age of digital.

What remains clear is that there has been a power, a presence, almost the sense of a depth-level ‘seeing’ to the writing of many of these songs.  Timeless Melody being a powerful example.

The melody always finds me
Whenever the thought reminds me
Breaking a chain inside my head
The melody chord unwinds me
The rhythm of life unties me
Brushing the sand of time away

If you look in your mind
Do you know what you will find
Open your mind…

Even the words they fail me
Oh look what it’s doing to me
I never say what I want to say
It’s only a word believe me
If only the world could see me
I promise I’d send the word away

If you look with your eyes
Do you know what you will find
Open your mind

The melody always finds me
Whenever the thought reminds me
Breaking a chain inside my head
The melody chord unwinds me
The rhythm of life unties me
Brushing the sand of time away

It’s not like quietly, there isn’t an understanding and acceptance of the brilliant qualities of Mavers’ writing and The La’s, here’s a really quite incongruous Pearl Jam cover, complete with their swaying, rock-americana rhythmics and relatively perfunctory arrangement.

But as I understand such things there is within this song a singing lucid quality to the expression of its words and music.  Mark Fisher often gave precedence to the emergence of rhythm over melody as a primary force in libidinalising musics which freed up and energised individuals and social movements and of course he was right.  However, I always felt that melody could be scorned as a mode in reality because it had been so abused in its renderings by endless human assemblages (made to express sad, passive, ballads or chicken shit songs of action) but at the same time and in the way that separation is already questionable (between rhythm and melody – at the phonic level of the arrival of sound) I also always felt that there was a ‘beyond’ to the space of melodics which becomes toward real transformations of being and most certainly perceiving and understanding (and where these are inseparable or overlap).

So it seems, did (or does) Lee Mavers.  He is being found by the timeless melody (the song or sound that is both undated, undateable – but also which takes him – and by extension in possibility – us) out of time.  The outside of time, there in reference as melody, and not alone – ‘the rhythm of life unties me’.

He is bringing us the freedom of the moment, stepping outside of time (‘brushing the sands of time away’) and gaining towards a threshold, or feeling, or reality of freedom or in itself – a step of freedom – ‘breaking a chain inside my head’.

So the track is established, Mavers is aware of how he is tied, chained and aware that part of how one seems to break away from such matters is sound/music and that an element of freedom from same (or simply freedom) also includes a sense or reality of being outside time in some way, maybe outside chronic time is a better way to look at this at this point.  It also brings to mind the simple Burroughs line ‘time is a prison of human construction’.

Even during the long hiatus post ’92 (and before a brief live reprieve with The La’s and other incarnations in the mid 2000’s) something as characteristically powerful as this music was still gaining ground and attracting thought.  I recall reading an interview with Mavers around the end of the 90’s/early ’00s where, from his council home in Liverpool, he had revealed songs which had been written following the La’s disbanding, and which it seemed might never be recorded.  The journalist had opined at the richness and depth of renditions of unheard songs including titles like ‘The Human Race’ – some of these songs are now findable on AdTub and other spaces (the kitchen demos tape and the crescent tapes 98 contain a lot of these songs in sometimes very sketchy renderings), one such being the track Tears in the Rain:

Take my hand,

and pour my heart into the land

and walk my bones into the sand

so now the soul will understand

burn that light,

that leads to where I stand and fight

and like a moth into a light,

I will dance my death tonight

its so hard to explain… lost like tears in the rain

An extraordinary lyrical run, laced as simplicity, which manages to draw on both Bladerunner and Carlos Castaneda.  Mavers is constantly battling with words ‘its so hard to explain’ – the perennial experience which is at odds with the capture and transmission mode of words, but the specificity of experiences and descriptions, his heart into the land (as Lorca with his theory of the Duende and its emphasis on a connection with the land) and somehow beyond that too, with the body itself entering the land and becoming it.  It feels like Mavers has gone to the particulate, the ‘sand of time’ on Timeless Melody, his bones walked into the sand on Tears in the Rain, this is a becoming which recognises that Human beings are also in a sense, simply cosmic dust, grains of sand on the beach of an unfathomably mysterious existence, but whose time alive is brief and fleeting.  Yet he is entering the land with his heart and his bones – a becoming with the planet – the exemplar of both the title and Rutger Hauer’s fine monument to being lost, when tears become the rain – and yet from Mavers and the corpus of his words, the sense is also always there that such a moment, such a becoming may not in itself be the dissolution that Hauer’s sense of loss aluded to.

And yet amidst this simplicity and its beautiful imagistic, poetic recitation of being, is also the understanding that life is a battle, that Mavers must also battle, as a being and that the dance of life is also the dance with death.  Here is the Castanedan invokation, where at a certain point, the character Juan Matus explains that a warrior’s life is everlomg a battle, never more so than during their final stand, when they battle with their own death.  It can also be taken from Castaneda that this battle is ongoing at all times of our life, whether knowingly or not and similarly that Death must be understood as an advisor, to be applied against the trivialities and minutiae of life.  While the counting/accounting of our existence as self important, ego-ramified beings for whom the preservation of our sense of standing and personal, cognitively consonant self image is a stranglehold on energy, freedom of understanding and ontological realisation as beings of mysterious renderings of worlds.

Coincidentally also, the second tenet of Lorca’s duende on the form of great art; the awareness of death.

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If as are, we are beings in transition, in transformation, in a sea of change, are a sea of change, then what are we becoming, and what are we in becoming with?  Elliott Smith once sang ‘Why should you want any other… When you’re a world within a world?’ much as Kurt Cobain once sang ‘all in all, is all we are.’  Both of whom take us to the place where our perception of what it is to be a being and a human can be reconfigured to include as abstraction, transformed elements of what it is to be a world (or how a being is also a world-within-a-world) and of how the difference and alignments and contiguities of ‘all’ within the ontological context of another ‘all’ can also be understood in terms of being.

To Elliott Smith in particular, it feels like Mavers might almost be responding on unreleased track ‘I am the key.’

‘I am the sea, you are the shore’.

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As if the braided cage of our ongoing subjectivity and the need to get beyond and outside were not already cast throughout his writing, a song like Way Out, its searing fast guitar arpeggiation which changes key to give us the fantastic lead-in line to the chorus, gives us its simple repeated exhortation

‘Give it all you got now…’

For the sake and direction in this instance of the outside, of getting out.  But its also explicit that the direction of the outside contains that this interiority, (this interiority to be flown from) – the interiority of our constrained being in its consciousness and in its perception, in its trapped form is in some senses composed akin to, or actually as a dream.

‘Give me the hammer to shatter the dream,
To get a way out of this…’

That the lyrics could also be about the dream of the music industry, and its constant sale and advertising of a rock/popstar life, largesse and escape is simply more apt again, a writing that speaks to different levels is simply revealing of itself too that it is of different levels.  But as with a consistent voice-of-the-deep like Mavers, the return is at the heart of the way.  Take ‘Over‘ for example – tinged as it is with a fall-esque dissonant riff, before succumbing to a classic La’s take on 60’s harmonies…

…Ohhhhh-ver

this party’s over,

we’re stone cold sober,

the spell is broken,

the wind has spoken,

the road is open,

and we’re on our way

And it’s in some of these and other unreleased pieces that Mavers untwined writing emerges, as with the aforementioned Human Race (heard on the Crescent Tapes).

‘we’ve got to stop and fight for the human race’

As if the knowledge is there, clearly and unequivocally risen from the morass of self storied glories and the greed parade of miss-grossed reflections, that humans are in deep trouble, have been cosmically outmanoeuvred in the unknown circumstances of agency, lost along a curve of imploding power and its embedded eco-systemic masquerade of dead-certainties amid the false sonar of reality.

The second element of understanding this then to also be the concommitant of the formation of our mind as conscious beings and the ordering of our being as parts of a systemic, partly unknown massing-as-other.

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There is a moment here on Feelin’, while acknowledging that he is in fact responding to something, that the question of God momentarily arises, but it is left at the idiomatic (‘thank God’).  It feels in fact like Mavers is a person of such integrity, that in the context of how he has expressed his understanding of human beings and our predicaments, that any conventionalised religiosity at the creator-divinity God, will simply be off.

I get the feeling
That I am responding to a call
I am receiving
To give you this feeling
Thank God for that feeling
I could not ask for anymore

Instead, we get not just the call that he responds to, to give us this feeling, but the question of Mavers’ other becomings to be shared in understanding, in perplexity, in lucidity.  One of the songs in this regard that seems to return and with the depth and simplicity of something ringing out with a sense of beyond is Looking Glass.

The song that closed out the album.

The immanent sense of a shamanic journey through the looking glass, the reflective seeing of being, a contact with the human race that reaches a transcending moment of realisation:

I’m in everybody, everybody’s in me… I see everybody, everybody sees me… in the looking glass, the glass is smashed.

Its the point at which the barriers have come down and Mavers is bringing everyone together within his being and bringing togetherness in the form of his being in others, while simultaneously making it the story for each of us, that we all in experiencing the song become the world of the other humans and they become us.  At such a juncture, the individualised world and its pits and troughs in personality and encounter, the specific mores and bugbears of likes, dislikes becomes unmemorable beneath the telescoping of being.  It is not as if Mavers maintains a ‘generalised’ totality of speaking on behalf of the world of people, it is simply given as a statement of fact, a rendered statement of perception that there, in the depths of the smashed looking glass (the smashed medium of self reflection of the species) is a reality that also allows us to become each other, almost without end.

Tell me where I’m going…
Tell me where I’m bound…
Turn the pages over
Turn the world around
Open up the broken door for all lost will be found
Walk into the empty room but never make a sound
Oh tell me where I’m going
Tell me why I’m bound to tear the pages open
Turn the world around…

Turning the world around is akin to changing its angle, or in reality, changing our angle, but at the level of perceiving the world, while also reminding that the world is always turning.  Being bound to tear the pages open is also the opening of knowledge, bound in this sense also seemingly as a book is itself bound, in a specific order to create a specific story or possibility of sequence.  To tear these open is to forefend propriety, or control, whatever has removed or closed the pages in the first place.  To which Mavers knows that to find freedom at a certain point is also to be against (at least until we have left ‘the sands of time’).  But that also in the breaking of the looking glass comes the release of knowledge/reflection whose previous removal cannot conventionally be understood except in context of its inorganic re-ordering as part of wider spaces of motioning and actions of existences.

The past it never says it, it never makes a sound, whispered ways were chosen, echoes will be found… Though the way lies open, will the way be found…

Indeed, the past never says it, it never speaks of what forces carve from unknown corners, the directions and compunctions of forces of accreted human action.  The ways whispered because everything else is already shouting out in the mad vortex of human sanity, and because in fact when (as with) ‘the wind has spoken’ – it is always with a whisper.

It is also the case that ‘turning the world around’ in this context is the away from the composition of the interiority which does not travel or challenge the direction and speed of the world of our individually reflected realities.   Toward the away of getting out – because and it has to be remembered, as with ‘the feelin’ that it is imperative to break the glass of how we are individually reflected and ‘open the door’ (‘I am the key, you are the door, open the door‘).  This as the way out from trapped and trapping forms of our feelings and their compositions (that which must be broken) – when these are specifically functioning as unknown acceptances of only thin spectra of experiences and possibilities; (that we do not see the outside of) jails of false reflection, blinkered realities, cages of banality or of reactive self-flagellation or the prima pomped balloonic (or endless other variants).   Rather than giving us to break through to the feelings of joy, love and the gesturing of freedom as responses to life that are energising instances of feeling intensity in motion and in that sense also directions in way out.

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I thought in fact that it would not be necessary to call by on their transcendent pop arclight ‘There she goes’ and while writing this piece and checking out different versions, it didn’t feel necessary that anything further would warrant inclusion.  However and with the levity that such a beautiful crystalisation of sound deserves, this 12″ vinyl upload managed right at the end of this process to carve open channels of feelin in sound that really meant it would be churlish not to leave it here.  Pure feeling.

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