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On a rare night out last week, I ended up at a gig by a trio of Swedes with nice names and good manners. You might expect me to go on now to describe the aesthetic pleasure of new european jazz, its meditative qualities and the balance between maintaining the essential swing of jazz and conveying the sense of space and light of the northern countries. I could, and I do love that stuff, but thats not where the evening was headed. This trio – Peter, Bjorn & John – were playing what used to be called powerpop in the eighties. Short chunky songs with nifty guitar riffs and catchy choruses straight out of sixties girl pop. I don’t know what it’s called now, but if it has a name it will surely include the words post-modern, ironic, knowing and possibly contrived. That last would be unfair given how much they were clearly enjoying themselves, and the fact that, like all Swedes, it was obvious that looking and being deeply trendy doesn’t preclude being genuinely nice people too. Some time during the evening the issue of pop versus rock came up. Glitter versus hairy old afghan. If you had to take one record only to the desert island would it be Bowie or Yes, The Undertones or Lynard Skynard, T-Rex or Led Zeppelin? Is the perfect pop moment a higher form of art than the 20 minute guitar solo, or is it just a cheap thrill and if so, is a cheap thrill the best high of all?
Next morning I had to go back to writing about root vegetables. Because of something I had been reading, I found myself anthropomorphising them, the roots that is. Especially the classic trio of carrot, parsnip and (swede) turnip. Everyone loves carrots, how could you not, with their easy sugary pleasure, snowman’s nose colour and amazing versatility. They have swept into every food culture and been welcomed with a wild street party. The parsnip, though, has a complex character that rewards a little bit of work and, because of that, has a strong cult following, most of whom wear Echo and the Bunnymen overcoats. The turnip has had little but abuse except in Scotland, Ireland and Sweden where they are loved for their strong, earthy but sweet character. Like anything that has been pushed to the extremes of its culture, the turnip clearly has a sense of humour. Anything that cheers up the Scots has to have. And here’s something the turnip has that no other vegetable can do, not even the chorus girl carrot – its colour deepens as it cooks. How does it do that?
I’m not making direct comparisons between the two questions, mostly because my own answers don’t tie up. I’m merely saying that one question gave rise to the other.
So, for no prize other than curiosity – T-Rex or Led Zeppelin? Carrot, parsnip or (swede) turnip?
Now I must go and write about salsify without seeing it as anything remotely like Julian Cope’s earthy, pagan epic Jehovahkill.
Posted on: 7 December 2006