Category Archives: Poetry

324. David Bowie (Part 2)

Hello, welcome to Luke’s English Podcast, which is a  podcast for learners of English around the world. This is part 2 of a special episode about English musician David Bowie who died just a few days ago on 10 January 2016. The aim of this episode is to talk about David Bowie’s significance as an artist, to consider some of the themes of his work and to look at why so many people had such a strong emotional attachment to him. Hopefully after listening to this episode you’ll be better able to have conversations about David Bowie, but also about art and culture in general. You can find almost everything I’m saying transcribed on the page for this episode – see below.

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In part 1 I talked about Bowie’s career up until about the year 1975. So let’s carry on in just a moment, but before that I just want to say that since I recorded this episode I’ve realised that there are lots of other things didn’t mention. For example, I could have talked more about his first wife Angie and his second wife Iman. They say that behind every great man there’s a great woman. If that’s true then Bowie must have had two great women in his life – and probably quite a lot of average ones as well I expect… Anyway, joking aside, I’m sure they had big parts to play in his life, and I hope they’re alright. It’s hard for us to lose an artist we love, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for his close family who must have cared about him in so many other ways.

Anyway, let’s get back into this episode and I’ll carry on from where I stopped last time in the mid-70s.

Part 2

It’s hard to explain everything that happened in the 1970s! It was a whirlwind of different things, and incredible music. Everything moved so fast for Bowie during that period, and he was really ahead of everyone else in terms of fashion. Bowie was very ahead of his time.

Around this time he starred in a film called The Man Who Fell To Earth, directed by Nicholas Roeg. In it he plays the character of an alien who lands on earth and attempts to make sense of the place. He was perfect for the part and it is still a mesmerizing performance. He was a great actor. IN the film he’s very thin and his otherworldliness and his vulnerability were perfect for the part of an alien, alone on earth.

If you’ve seen the film “Under the Skin” with Scarlett Johannson, I think it borrowed a lot from “The Man Who Fell To Earth”.


Why was he so thin? Drugs and his excessive lifestyle.
It’s amazing that he survived that period.
You can see him in quite a dark place in the documentary film about him called “Cracked Actor”.
This is partly due to the ravages of his rock and roll lifestyle – touring, performing and being a celebrity can have a weird effect on a person, but add drugs into the mix and things can get seriously out of control.
Bowie took a lot of cocaine in the 70s. ultimateclassicrock.com/david-bowie-cocaine/
He did this mainly to help him work, but also because it was fun of course (in the beginning). I think cocaine can give you lots of energy which allows you to keep working much more intensively and for longer periods than people who are not using it, but it comes with a price of course – to your wallet, but to your mental and physical condition. Apparently it is incredibly habit-forming and very difficult to break away from. Ultimately, if you continue to use it then eventually it will use you. “Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you.” I don’t know where that quote comes from, but I guess it means that “you might use drugs, but eventually the drugs will use you.” And I don’t know what drugs will use you for… it’s probably best not to let drugs use you or dictate your life. They’ll take you to bad places.

Paranoia, weird eating habits, alcohol, obsessions.
He was incredibly thin and seemed to be quite out of his mind during that period.
Check out some of his interviews and TV appearances, and photos of him at the Grammy Awards with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1975. He looks almost like a skeleton.
Grammy Awards in 1975 - from left to right: Bowie, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, Yoko Ono, John Lennon

He later described this period as horrible. Imagine being so far out of your mind and yet so lost within yourself that all your demons are made real and are talking to you in persuasive, frightening and seductive voices. Apparently Bowie was so disturbed and paranoid that he could only bear to eat certain foods. Apparently he lived for quite a while just drinking milk and eating green peppers, while snorting cocaine all the time and drinking alcohol. It’s amazing that he survived.

I think his problems at that time were not just drug related, but also identity related. Apparently he had let the Ziggy Stardust persona take over his real life. He wasn’t sure where Ziggy or Aladdin Sane ended and David Bowie began. The lines became blurred. Reality and performance were all messed up, and he lost a sense of who he really was. He must have nearly lost his grip on reality for a while. Again, he was the astronaut spinning into deep space.

Nevertheless, despite the craziness in his personal life at the time, he continued to make some of the best music of his career and it’s all there for us to listen to, like great albums such as Young Americans and Station to Station. Always such fantastic music and well written songs. That’s the bedrock of all of it – he wrote very good songs. He combined appealing and popular music which also contained some very complex and avant-garde elements, like a crazy freeform piano solo here, some very unorthodox string arrangements, some totally distinctive chord changes, and some incredibly versatile singing. Some people say Bowie couldn’t sing, but it’s not true. He had quite a narrow sounding voice, but he used it in a lot of different ways and could sing low or very high. Sometimes he would sing in a kind of cockney accent, and sometimes he’d use a posher, deeper and more distinguished voice.

The Berlin Period
My Dad didn’t have any records by Bowie from 1975 until 1983, so I missed the whole Berlin period, and I still haven’t really explored it, which is, on one hand terrible because how can I be a fan without really knowing those records, but also great because I’m going to explore all those albums now. My uncle sent me 3 CDs not long ago – Low, Lodger and Heroes. I’m going to feast on those LPs. He’s always been good that way, my uncle Nic. Never been on the podcast, but he’s a huge music lover and a massive fan of Bowie. When I was 16 Nic made me a tape. It had Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, David Bowie and The Clash on it. What an education. My uncle saw Bowie perform live 3 times. At one of those performances it was 1975 or 1976 and he was right at the front of the audience. He actually saw Bowie performing as the Thin White Duke, just a few metres away. It must have been incredible. I’ve been chatting a bit with Nic, and my brother who is also a big fan. Here are some of the things that my Uncle said to me via text just yesterday.

Nic: I feel really very sad about it, more than I can imagine for someone I never actually knew. Except of course I did in a way. Such a soundtrack through my adult life. The highlight for me was being near the front at Wembley Pool for the Thin White Duke, maybe the best concert we ever went to. The greatest artist of my generation.

Saw him three times but The Duke was the best, mainly also because we saw him swept away in the back of a huge black limousine after the gig, this little white genius in the back of this huge black car.

Luke: I’m about to do a podcast about Bowie, but I really don’t know where to start.

Nic: What you have to say is that part of his genius was the utter unpredictable nature. Each successive album was unique and different, you never knew what to expect. But it was always different and fascinating.

Good luck with the podcast I’m sure you’ll manage it but don’t worry if you can’t. Such a huge subject.

Luke Thompson: I’ll do what I can! Didn’t someone once say that art is never finished, it’s just abandoned? I’m not saying my podcast is art or anything, but I think you know what I mean.

Nic: I do. I think you and David would’ve got on really well!

Luke: Oh man, what a thought!

My bro sent me a little voice message. Here it is.
(James’ audio message)

Anyway, back to the Berlin period. I think what happened is that Bowie decided to get out of LA in order to escape all the drugs and madness. He moved to Berlin with Iggy Pop. I think they believed that there would be no drugs in Berlin, but they were wrong – apparently there was lots of heroin. I don’t think Bowie used heroin. Good – that’s the real killer and must be avoided at all costs. His friend Iggy Pop (real name James Osterberg) was a heroin addict, so I think he may have succumbed to it there, I’m not sure. But for Bowie, Berlin was a chance to start piecing his life together again and work on new projects. He also split from his wife Angie during this period. (Yes, during all the madness of the previous few years he had married and had a child, now called Duncan Jones – he’s a filmmaker who did a really great science fiction film called Moon, which is quite reminiscent of Bowie’s song Space Oddity).

Anyway, Berlin was Bowie’s attempt to begin again, and although it must have been a difficult and troubling time for him, it was also an extremely creative period, again. Some say it’s the peak of his career, but David Bowie had so many different peaks. Just pick one.

Berlin and the art scene there influenced him a lot. His records from that period were a collaboration with Brian Eno, and they have a totally different feel to the Thin White Duke period. They’re stark, sparse, quite low-fi, quite gritty, depressing yet with an air of grounded optimism and a sense of rebirth. It’s amazing how he managed to change and find new creativity with each step. I think artists are always struggling to find that inspiration to be creative. You can’t always manufacture the creative urge, it just comes to you and you have to try and put it into music or paint or whatever you’re using. I’m amazed at how Bowie managed to follow his creative muse so consistently and regularly. He was really in touch with something – a creative channel, that most of us don’t have access to. It makes us think that Bowie knew things that the rest of us don’t know. I don’t really understand that, but it’s true of all great artists I think – that they have direct access to something that we don’t, and they are able to put it into their art and then we can have access to it too. I feel like that about The Beatles too.

Song: Ashes to Ashes.
This was made just after the Berlin period and it’s his way of saying goodbye to the 70s. The song is incredible, especially when performed live. It has a really cool funk groove, but it also has some really weird and original chord changes and melodies. For me the lyrics are about him looking at his recent past and putting it behind him. It’s about letting the past be the past and moving on. I really can’t do justice in words to how poignant this song feels for me whenever I listen to it. It just grabs my feelings and throws them around all over the place. I don’t want to sound pretentious, that’s genuinely what the song does to me. I care about it in personal ways that I can’t go into now. I love the strength in the song. That you can move on and change and that you are not defined by your past. That’s incredibly brave and positive.

My Dad had another album – Let’s Dance, released in 1983. Perhaps Bowie’s biggest commercial hit. Produced by Nile Rogers.
On the cover Bowie was dressed as a boxer and is throwing a punch. There are also some diagrams for dance steps. I like the analogy of boxing and music. Dancing can be like fighting, when you dance on your own that is. It can be like sparring with your demons, if you like.
Bowie was still in a suit in this period and had bleached blonde hair. He still looked super cool as always.
The production on the album is absolutely massive. It sounds incredible.
The vinyl was in much better condition.
Maybe my Dad listened to it less (I think having kids and a job took up most of his time) or maybe the technology had improved since then, and vinyl records were just better made.
“Let’s Dance” blew my socks off completely. Still does.
“China Girl” also sounded incredible. The musicianship was so tight. It was produced like an up-front commercial dance album. Apparently Bowie didn’t like it that much. I think it just didn’t match his artistic vision, but I love it – because I love the work of Nile Rogers (think tracks like “Good Times” by Chic or “He’s the greatest dancer” by Sister Sledge, and many other records).
My Dad told me that he thought China girl was a song about heroin. That was really intriguing to me. “How could those romantic lyrics be about drugs?” and also, I was interested to know if Bowie had used heroin, because I know how dangerous that drug is – just watch the film Trainspotting and you’ll know.
It turns out the song was written by Iggy Pop. That explains it. Iggy was the heroin addict.
Listening to it, there’s a lot of pain and despair in the lyrics. Bowie screams in pain, including the line “It’s in the whites of my eyes!” to describe the depth of Iggy’s drug addiction. That’s scary, but it’s a pop song.
In fact, the raw upbeat power of the song overwhelms the dark sentiment of the lyrics. Maybe that’s why Bowie wasn’t so keen on it.

Since listening to that album as a teenager (and throughout my life) I’ve learned that by 1983 Bowie had managed to get clean and had left his drug habit behind. That was always really impressive to me. He always managed to maintain such distinction and class, even when he must have been feeling so terrible sometimes. He really kept it together, but there must have been some pretty dark and difficult times. I respect him for having the strength of mind to stop. Lesser people would have been destroyed by the lifestyle he had. Apparently, to help him stay clean, Bowie had a tattoo on his leg of the serenity prayer, which is the common name for a prayer authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. The best-known form is:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Which means I think – he wanted to remember that he could never go back to using drugs. I think some addicts slip back into using when they think they have the power to stop again, but they have to remember that their drug addiction is something they can’t change. If you believe you can control the addiction, you’re wrong. But you can control yourself by choosing to stay clean.

It’s something like that. But to me it’s impressive that he tattooed that onto his leg. He was really committed and strong-minded.

The 80s were a slightly mixed period artistically for Bowie. I think he probably got his personal life together but his art suffered a bit. Fair enough. I think he deserved to have some happiness and stability for a while and so what if some of his work in the late 80s wasn’t that great.

I remember seeing him again in about 1986 or 1987 when as a family we went to the cinema to watch a film called Labyrinth. David Bowie played the bad guy in the film – called Jareth The Goblin King. Basically it’s a kind of dark fairy tale about a girl who goes on adventure into a maze in order to rescue her baby brother who has been kidnapped by the goblin king. Bowie’s performance is pretty hilarious. He’s dressed up in a very camp outfit with big hair and tights. He sings a couple of songs. I remember being a bit disturbed by the film but I didn’t know why. Watching it back more recently I think I realised what it was – it’s Bowie’s tight trousers. They were… well… a bit too tight. I mean, you could see everything. The film was supposed to be scary and there were a few monsters in it, but really the most frightening monsters were on display under David’s tight pants. If you don’t know what I’m getting at, watch the film and you might see what I mean. I’m not the only one to have made that observation by the way. Apparently it was intentional too. The director wanted to create a villain who was attractive yet dangerous – like a rock star.

Bowie came back again in the 90s with another creative period. He reinvented himself as a kind of godfather of British rock music. He wore an awesome jacket with a union jack on it, and collaborated with drum and bass artists like Goldie.

For me the rest of his career is interesting but not quite as great as his earlier work, in terms of music. But he did lots of TV interviews and live performances and many of them are on YouTube. I like to think of his later period as his interview period, but of course he was involved in loads of other projects. There are plenty of things I’m not mentioning here just because it would be impossible to cover everything. One thing he did was use the internet to share his music, right from the beginning, before most other artists or companies used the internet for publishing. He really had his finger on the pulse. He was always ahead of his time.

His TV interviews on YouTube are great. He was always really interesting to listen to. He was very thoughtful, intelligent and articulate, and funny. He was really witty and had a fantastic sense of humour. That’s perhaps one of the most attractive things about him. He never ever took himself too seriously. He took the art really seriously, but never himself. His attitude was so refreshing. No ego.

He had a characteristic voice and way of speaking. It’s fun to do impressions of him and many comedians have done that over the years. My favourite impressions of Bowie are done by Hugh Cornwell on a TV show called Stella Street, and by Adam & Joe who are both Bowie obsessives, particularly Adam Buxton. They do great Bowie impressions. Check out the page for this episode to see those Bowie impressions and to listen to a long documentary that Adam did about Bowie. It’s brilliant.

Bowie released a few albums during the 2000s that were well received by critics, including Heathen and Reality.

Then he went quiet for a while after having a heart attack. He sort of disappeared from the media, except to help promote his son’s film “Moon”.

Then, more recently he came back with The Next Day, and just a week before his death his final album called Blackstar.

What’s interesting about this last couple of albums is that he seemes to be singing about his career as a whole, revisiting some of the themes, places and images that he created earlier.

What none of us predicted is that his latest album Blackstar is about his mortality. Listening to it now, immediately after his death, the songs and videos take on a much deeper significance. The album is very poignant and moving, and is full of puzzles and enigmas that seem to express his experience of coming to terms with his own death, and then dying, leaving us with a completed body of work. It is the perfect ending to his career.

Just over a week ago Bowie released his new album on his birthday.
Lots of people were talking about it, and Bowie fans were excited as usual to get some more music to explore.
We were all celebrating his return and wishing him a happy birthday.
So when we heard about his death, it came as a painful shock.
It was so unexpected, because we had no warning. We had no idea he was sick. He’d kept it secret.

It might seem like a small thing, but a new album of music from an artist you love can make a difference to your life in subtle ways.
A week before he died, early on a dark Monday morning while eating my corn flakes, I had watched the video to his song Blackstar. I found it to be really strange and quite frightening, yet with an appealing and catching song in the middle of it.
Just like much of Bowie’s best work, it’s both avant-garde and poppy. It’s not easy listening, it’s quite dark and moody, but I like that. Music shouldn’t always be safe. It should be challenging sometimes.
Anyway, the video disturbed me a bit. It was full of nightmarish visions, and seemed to be symbolic of something but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
I went to work that day and put it to the back of my mind, deciding to just come back and listen to the whole album at some point later.
Then a week passed and last Sunday evening came around. I couldn’t sleep.
I just couldn’t get to sleep.
That doesn’t always happen to me. Usually I get to sleep quite easily. I love sleeping.
This was one of those nights when I couldn’t rest. My mind was just wide awake and it was racing in lots of different directions at the same time. I ind it very frustrating and annoying, especially if I have work the next day. I just want to sleep but my mind seems to be connected to something and won’t switch off. (perhaps I should have listened to my own sleep episode – or tried the relaxation techniques, but I couldn’t focus)
It was disturbing to be still awake at 4am, just lying there in the darkness, with the stars in the sky outside, just staring into space even though my eyes were closed.

Eventually I dropped off and got a couple of hours of sleep, but I was feeling pretty delicate on Monday morning. You know how it is if you haven’t slept.
I had corn flakes again like normal. I have to get up extra early on Mondays in order to teach. My wife was still sleeping peacefully. Lucky her!
I got to school in the rain.
I was holding it together, getting my lessons prepared and someone came in the room and just said to me “David Bowie’s dead”.
Immediately I just said “WHAT???”
In fact, the news spread around the teachers’ room pretty fast. Usually people are busy getting their lessons planned but everyone just stopped.
It’s hard to comprehend that someone is just not in the world any more.
There’s a period where you can’t come to terms with it.
I felt a bit empty or something.
Then I had to go and teach.
During the classes that morning, when I wasn’t interacting with my students, like when I was getting the CD prepared, or when I turned away from them to write on the board, it came back to me quite quickly, and I got surprisingly emotional and had to try to get control of myself!
Fair enough I hadn’t slept much so I was feeling a bit weird anyway.
But I’m still quite surprised at how moved I was.
It was so unexpected.
It’s like David Bowie himself had punched me in the stomach.
Apparently he used to train as a boxer to keep fit.
Well, apparently he was still pretty fit because laid a combination of punches on me that morning that I didn’t expect.
In those moments when I wasn’t occupied by something else I couldn’t help thinking of the times when David Bowie’s music was in my life. They were all key moments for me somehow. Like being in the car with my Dad, discovering new feelings as a teenager in the corner of the living room, dancing in a nightclub somewhere with girls, doing Bowie impressions with my best friends, singing a Bowie song to try and seduce my girlfriend (it worked – the song? “The Prettiest Star”).
They all struck me, but I wasn’t the only one of course. Millions of people around the world were feeling pretty much the same things as me at that moment.

And later on I thought about that scary video that I’d seen exactly a week before and it made a lot more sense to me.
Bowie knew what he was doing. He new he was sick with cancer and he knew that he was going to die, but he didn’t tell the public. We had no idea. So he decided, probably very quickly, to make this music and throw into it all his feelings and experiences when confronted with his own mortality. Apparently he had 6 heart attacks in the year before his death, while recording the album, but he kept fighting to finish the album. Wow.

Apparently he was very close to the edge during the period when the album was due to be released. But he managed to time it somehow so that he would die a week after his birthday and the release of the album.

Even his death was a flawlessly judged artistic act.

Imagine my sleepless night, the frustration of not sleeping, the weird thoughts and fears that passed through my head in that condition. It was weird but what must it be like to be lying in bed, not waiting for dawn to come, but waiting for the end to arrive? What would you be thinking and feeling? I think Bowie has done a great job of expressing that in this music. It’s scary I know, but it’s powerful, and it’s not just morbid and depressing. There are moments where I feel he’s exstatically happy, looking back on some of the victories and joy he had in his life.

Also, the music is good. It’s got some bubbly electronic sounds and some jazz/funk drumming, and some soulful elements and sweeping string arrangements and saxophone.

But what’s mind-blowing is that Bowie used his death as a way of delivering his art to us. That punch in the stomach is a great way to get someone’s attention. Now he has everyone’s attention and we’re all listening. It’s the perfect exit! He really left with a bang.

Now what we have is a complete body of work with a distinct beginning and end, which makes it all the more powerful. I’m sure that all his best music will stand the test of time. In 100-200 years, if we’re all still here, I think Bowie will still be considered one of the most influential and significant artists of this age.

For me personally, I hope there will be many more moments coming in the future that I can share with David Bowie and his music, like the ones I had in the past.

The man may be gone, but the artist remains – preserved in the music, in the images and in our memories.

Thank you David Bowie.

Here are lots of David Bowie Links and Videos.
Just take your pick and dive in.

Space Oddity studio version with lyrics

Space Oddity live on TV in 1969

Ziggy Stardust sings Starman on BBC Top of the Pops in 1972

David Bowie announces the end of Ziggy Stardust on stage

Aladdin Sane

Bowie interviewed by Dick Cavett in 1974, clearly under the influence of cocaine

Thin White Duke


Bowie in Berlin
Guardian article www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/13/david-bowie-berlin-years-heroes-just-a-gigolo

Fascinating interview from 1979

Bowie in 1983 criticises MTV for not playing black music

Bowie talks about acting and touring in 1983

Nile Rogers describes meeting David Bowie

Bowie – “The Interview Years”

Bowie & Comedy – Ricky Gervais described meeting Bowie

Phil Cornwell on Stella Street (skip to 5:00 for the David Bowie impression)

Documentaries


Adam Buxton’s Audio Bowie Documentary
This is my favourite Bowie tribute.
archive.org/details/AdamBuxtonOnDavidBowie31stMarch2013
YouTube version here but with the songs removed

The new tracks – Blackstar (the creepy video I watched on Monday morning while eating corn flakes) and Lazarus

Adam & Joe talk about Bowie and do some impressions
If you watch just one of the videos in this list, please watch this one. Adam & Joe obviously love Bowie very much, and their impressions and improvisations are a lot of fun.

323. David Bowie (Part 1)

This episode is all about the life and work of David Bowie, the English musician who died just a couple of days ago. In the episode you’ll hear me talk about the cultural significance of Bowie as an artist, why he is such a legend of British music, and what his music means to me personally. I hope you can use this episode as a way to learn more about British culture. Almost 100% of the episode is transcribed below.

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David Bowie was an English singer, songwriter, record producer, painter and actor. He was a figure in popular music for over five decades, and was considered by people around the world as a cultural innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. I am a big David Bowie fan, and in this podcast my aim is to explain to you the appeal and significance of David Bowie as a cultural icon. I’ve had a few messages from listeners over the last couple of days asking me to talk about this subject, and I am very happy to be able to do that on my podcast.

This subject is significant to me personally, and I expect to many of you too, but also it’s a very significant to British culture in general, and I think it’s important to teach you about British culture or English language culture on Luke’s English Podcast, as well as to teach you the language itself, because ultimately, it’s all part of the same thing. The language exists within the culture, or perhaps the culture exists within the language – they are intertwined together in complex ways. So, to learn the language like a native I think it helps to know about the culture of that language too, so you can start thinking in the same way that native users of that language think too. Also, if you ever talk to native speakers of English you need to know the cultural references. For example, at the moment and no doubt for a long time afterwards, people will be talking about David Bowie, his music, his art and its significance. Would you be able to hold down a conversation about Bowie? Hopefully this episode will help you do that.

David Bowie changed our culture, not just in Britain but also around the world. How did he do it? What did he do that was so significant? Why is his death such a big deal? What was his appeal? What do most people know about David Bowie? What did he do during his life? What were the messages he communicated through his art? Why will he be considered one of the greatest artists of our time?

There are so many questions to answer. I don’t have the answers to all of them. Some questions will go unanswered. But there are always more questions than answers, aren’t there?

I think the world still doesn’t fully understand what Bowie was doing or what it was all about – or at least we can’t easily put it into words, but those people who value his work certainly feel a powerful emotional connection to David Bowie and his work. He was an artist, and I suppose part of the work of an artist is to express ideas and feelings in other ways – not using words alone, but using anything else as a way of conveying a message or feeling. David Bowie definitely did that. Not only was he a musician, but he was an artist, maybe one of the greatest artists of our time, and he used everything he could in order to communicate with us – music primarily, but also video, theatre, mime, the internet (he was an early adopter), the media and even his own body, his fame, his image and ultimately his identity itself. He even used his own death as a way of communicating his art to the world.

David Bowie’s whole life turned out to be a work of art itself, and as an artist he used his life to tell a captivating, mysterious and complex story.

Here are the main questions I’m going to try and talk about
Who is* David Bowie? (*was ?)
Why is he significant?
Why is Bowie significant to me personally?

I have to say that this is a really difficult episode for me to do because there’s just so much to cover, and I want to do justice to the subject. I don’t think I can say everything I want to say about Bowie in this episode. I would love you to just listen to his music with an open mind. Listen to the beats, the grooves, the moods and let your imagination do the rest. he was also a great speaker in interviews – he was articulate, charming and very funny too. I’m not going to play you any interview footage or any of his music (except perhaps for a couple of seconds per song) on this podcast. But what I have done is collect some videos and other links for you on the page for this episode and I strongly recommend that you check them out. There are other documentaries, interviews, podcast episodes and music that are really really great and will give you loads more perspective on the subject. So go to the page for this episode and just dive in. Please do watch and listen to Bowie in his own words, and in the words of other people who have talked about him too.

I’ve been a fan of Bowie almost all my life. I grew up with his music and it has been with me at various important emotional moments for me.

When did I first hear Bowie’s music?
In the car as a child.
Night time.
Space Oddity.
The song is fascinating – it tells the story of an astronaut on a space mission. He goes out alone into space and loses touch with the earth. The astronaut is afraid, and it is scary – the idea of being so alone, drifting into the void of space, but also it is full of the wonder of the universe – seeing the earth from a distance, and wondering what it’s all about. The song is deep – as deep as the film 2001 A Space Odyssey, which was a direct influence on Bowie.
Looking back on it now, that car was like a spaceship floating through the dark with my Dad at the controls, the lights of suburban London street lamps passing overhead.
The song is like a metaphor for his career somehow.
The astronaut is Bowie the artist, and the spaceship is his work – the different characters he portrayed and inhabited, the multimedia structure around him that he built during his career – like a cocoon, which he has now departed.
Now, after his death, we have just the cocoon, the spacecraft. His life’s work is left with us.
I’m not sure what I’m saying here. And I’m sounding a bit pretentious I expect.
What I mean is that the image of a man in spaceship travelling through space is a bit like a metaphor for the work of the artist going on a journey. I can’t explain it. IN fact, I don’t quite understand it fully. It’s just beyond my understanding, just out of reach, somewhere in space.
That’s space oddity.

Then, later, at other times in my life, I had other moments with David Bowie’s music.
I gave a Bowie album to my Dad for his birthday in 1987. I remember the front cover of the album. I was 10. Bowie was Blue. It felt important that I was giving the record to my Dad. I think my Mum bought it, and I gave it to him.

Then when I was a teenager I started exploring my parents record collection. I discovered a lot of old music, but it was new to me. In our house the record player and the vinyl records were in the corner of the living room. I remember spending quite a lot of time in that corner, with the headphones on, exploring the music while my family were doing other things.

There was an album called “Changes – One Bowie”, which was a greatest hits compilation. I think it was released in the mid 70s and it had songs from his whole career up to that point. It was music from his psychedelic period, his hippy-in-a-dress period, the Ziggy Stardust period and the thin white duke period. These are all different incarnations of Bowie’s rock star identity.

The album cover to “ChangesOneBowie” – the compilation LP that I found in my parents’ record collection.

There was a photo of Bowie on the front of the album – it was a black and white pic and he looked like a Hollywood star from the classic Hollywood period of the 1930s or 40s. I couldn’t quite date the photo. Normally I’m good at predicting the period in which the picture was taken, or predicting when a record was recorded by listening to it, but this photograph just looked completely timeless. I couldn’t work out when it was taken.

The photo could come from any time and that was pretty fascinating. Also, he just seemed so cool and handsome and I thought – how could I be like him? How can I take some of that style and confidence and attractiveness and apply it to my own life. He seemed to be above everything, but not in a bad way – not in an arrogant way. I thought, how could any girl resist this guy? And that was very exciting for me – because I definitely fancied girls but I just wasn’t confident enough. I had no clue about how to talk to girls, let alone get them to fancy me. What Bowie showed me about that is that you shouldn’t fake it – just be confident, express yourself, let your natural style come out and don’t show any fear and you’ll attract girls. In fact, what was really attractive about Bowie is that he didn’t do things for egotistical reasons – the guy in the photo was distant – he wasn’t looking at the camera, he wasn’t begging for your attention, he was looking off into the middle distance somewhere. His mind was elsewhere. He was occupied by his work and by big ideas. I think Bowie’s enthusiasm and commitment to his work made him as attractive as his looks. But it was his looks too. He was the complete package.

I asked my Mum what she thought of Bowie and she said she just found him weird and a bit creepy. I was a bit disappointed, but I was still convinced that Bowie was the essence of coolness. What I saw in that picture was a lot of what is appealing about Bowie. His good looks and cool style, but also his class, his elegance, mystery and weirdness.
Let me describe the album cover.
You see his face and shoulders. He’s looking to our left, into the distance. It’s a black and white photo. His hair is quite short and is combed back with a slight parting on the side. His finger is resting on his bottom lip as if he’s thinking of something.
After a while I noticed that his eyes were different. The pupil of his left eye in the photo is dilated wide, but the other pupil is normal. I wondered if that was an effect added to the photo, to perhaps hint at the fact that he was high on something. It wasn’t obvious, but it was fascinating. Later I learned that Bowie had 2 different eyes – it looked like they had different colours, and the pupil of one was always larger than the pupil of the other. Apparently he had an accident or a fight over a girl when he was fourteen and got punched. The punch caused damage to a muscle in his eye, and since then one of the eyes always looked different to the other. It was another part of Bowie’s allure – there was just something different about his face.

In the photo he’s thin and has ridiculously high cheekbones and chiseled features, like a Hollywood movie star from the 1940s.
He had classical good looks, but there was something else about him – the lines on his face, the shape of his nose – there was something otherworldly and alien about him, like he might have come from outer space.

Also he has femininity in his features, and I think there’s nothing wrong with being in touch with your feminine side.
His ambiguous gender wasn’t the main thing I liked about him, but for many other teenagers throughout the years – teenagers who struggled with their gender identity, David Bowie was someone who gave them self-esteem and confidence. He showed that if you felt confused about your gender, that it was nothing to be ashamed of and that it didn’t matter, and that you could be whoever you wanted to be, and do it with pride. As a rock star, David Bowie was a huge ego boost to so many fans, and for many reasons. For me Bowie was just cool, confident and he made really great music. His confidence and his style commanded respect.
I grew up a bit when I looked at that album cover.

Then I listened to the record. I took the vinyl out of the sleeve and put it on the record player, with the headphones on. My parents had an old pair of 70s headphones. They were really good quality ones.

The first track was called Changes, released in 1971. There was a scratch on the record and it used to jump quite a lot during the introduction to the song. For years, I only heard the scratched version. The song would skip from the intro to the first verse, and then to the chorus quite quickly. It still sounded good to my ears.

It had a piano riff, chunky sounding drums and a good baseline. It sounded amazing in the headphones. Bowie sang words like
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
Changes

As a 15 or 16-year-old I was quite aware that I was going through changes of my own and at the time I was feeling for the first time that I was actually having more complicated feelings than just “I want to play football” or “Star Wars is cool”. Listening to this song, even though I didn’t completely understand the lyrics, I felt that I was suddenly part of something much larger and deeper, and it felt really cool. What it meant to me at the time was that we go through changes in our lives and we don’t always know why, but they’re significant and meaningful and we should be prepared for them, and others should let us change and we shouldn’t try to hold each other back or tell each other what to do – that we should have respect for each other’s complex worlds. I didn’t really understand it all, but it meant a lot – I just felt it.

Also, as I learned more about David Bowie’s music I knew that he was something of a changeling himself. He went through many image changes during his career, especially in the 70s, and that was and still is fascinating to me. How could someone become all these different people – and still hang onto himself? What was identity all about?

Here’s a ‘brief’ history of David Bowie.
South London in 1947. His real name was David Jones. Another performer had the name Davy Jones so he changed his name. He tried a few others, including Tom Jones and David Cassidy, before sticking with David Bowie. Good judgement. He chose Bowie because it was the name of an American knife and he liked the symbolism of that. The knife.
Grew up in postwar UK – the same generation as the Beatles and so many other great artists of his generation.
The main theme of his childhood seems to be – boredom and dullness. Living in suburbia was dull and everything looked the same. It seems to me, looking back on that period in the 1950s that life was in black and white. Just boring and quiet. The older generation just wanted peace and quiet after the hell of world war 2.
Like his peers he got hooked on American rock and roll and R&B but also plenty of other forms of music. This new music which he heard on the radio must have brought some colour into his life.
America was the place that seemed to be really exciting and interesting.
He got involved in the London music scene but never really found his style or confidence.
There was a boom in youth culture associated with music and fashion. This was the mid-late sixties.
Drugs and psychedelia were involved, amphetamines for energy and probably LSD for its mind expanding qualities.

Bowie recorded Space Oddity and it was released and became a hit, eventually, particularly as it coincided with the NASA moon landing in 1969. Some people thought of Space Oddity as a novelty song – just a funny story about an astronaut going into space. But it was deeper, more meaningful than that. Space Oddity is now a timeless classic that is not just about an astronaut. It’s an existential comment about the human condition. But it’s also a great little pop song that you can hum along to and which gets stuck in your head.

Despite some success with that song he still felt unsure of himself as a performer, and searched for ways to bring new dimensions and confidence to his performance art.

He started taking risks with his performances and was influenced by avant-garde artists and various forms of theatre, like clowning, mime and Japanese kabuki. He brought those influences into his rock and roll shows.
He collaborated with a guitarist called Mick Ronson who perhaps deserves more recognition than he gets. He’s the one who played those amazing riffs on a lot of Bowie’s glam rock classics like Rebel Rebel and Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie also came out as gay/bisexual during that period, but it’s not clear to all of us if he really was gay or if it was all part of some kind of provocative and experimental performance both on and off stage.

Nevertheless, he attracted devoted and passionate fans who loved his daring style and his outrageous performances. Being a David Bowie fan was a statement of liberty and freedom. He made it ok, and maybe even cool, to be androgynous.

Also, his music at the time just kicked arse. His band made really raunchy and catchy glam rock. It was heavy, fast, funky, romantic and glamorous. The confidence and mystery that he exuded on stage was like a gift to his fans, who were empowered by having him as a role model.

He first became really huge as a star when he created the character of Ziggy Stardust in around 1972.
Up until that point Bowie had not really found his feet as a performer. Apparently, when performing as himself he felt shy. It’s hard to imagine, but apparently it’s true. He didn’t really enjoy performing as David Bowie, because he just felt a bit awkward.

So he invented a character, and played him during the performances.
Ziggy Stardust was just a character – like a character in a movie or a play, and Bowie was the actor.
People still refer to Bowie as Ziggy, like it was his nickname. It wasn’t a nickname for Bowie, it was an alter-ego. Ziggy disappeared in the mid 70s.

Becoming Ziggy allowed Bowie to really let go of himself and become a rock god, and his performances as Ziggy were really extravagant, involving big costume changes, make up and all sorts of rude and lewd acts on stage.

Apparently Bowie was Ziggy not only on stage, but also off the stage, in public appearances, interviews and so on.
So, David Bowie was really an actor playing the part of an outrageous rock star. That’s interesting for me because Bowie’s acting performance was not just confined to the stage, it bled out into every aspect of his public life. His fame was his medium. He used that medium, fame, very well, to convey his art to us, even with his death.

It’s as Ziggy Stardust that Bowie became really well-known all over the UK and then in the USA, where he was embraced as a big star by the rock music scene.

Apparently Bowie’s main influences for Ziggy Stardust were on one hand NY based musicians Lou Reed & Iggy Pop, but also mime artists, Japanese kabuki theatre performers. Bowie loved the way Lou Reed managed to combine avant-garde art with pop and rock music. He loved the outrageousness and energy of Iggy Pop and the mystery and magic of the kabuki theatre tradition. All of it combined to create something extraordinary in Ziggy Stardust. These incredibly theatrical live shows, with stomping fast rock music and avant-garde lyrics. He released an album called Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It’s now a classic.

Part of Bowie’s genius was always that he could take very weird and abstract art and bring it to a wide audience via good old-fashioned rock and roll, and pop music. That’s the genius of pop. A pop song is so short, and so simple. Just 3 minutes with a couple of verses, a chorus and a bridge section. Played on the radio for mass appeal, full of catchy melodies and instant appeal. Bowie, like all the other great pop stars, used this medium to deliver some very powerful and clever ideas. Bowie’s pop songs were not just disposable trash. They had deep hidden meanings that are hard to comprehend, but which really stand up under scrutiny. He wasn’t just lucky either, like some artists who make one or maybe two hit records in their career. Bowie had hit songs throughout his career, and his greatest hits albums that you can buy now stretch over 2 or sometimes 3 CD collections. He knew what he was doing and his music is pure pop art.

He was a mainstream pop act, but he was also a radical avant gardist. Using pop to deliver abstract ideas right into people’s every day lives. Usually abstract art is to be found in galleries, and let’s face it, not enough ‘ordinary’ people see it. Through his records and videos and other projects, Bowie brought that stuff right to hearts and minds of a massive audience. IN that way, he’s way more of a successful artist than so many others. People would play his songs on the radio. He appeared on Top of the Pops on BBC1 – a very mainstream show, and he brought into the homes of normal people some of the craziest and most over the top concept art, simultaneously fascinating and frightening the nation. He sang a song called “Star Man” on BBC TV, dressed in a bright green costume, with his hair dyed bright red. Starman seems to be about an alien who wants to come to earth but is frightened of how the humans will receive him. It seemed to many that Bowie was the alien.

What did Ziggy Stardust look like?

I remember watching a movie about a Ziggy Stardust live concert, with my brother…

Ziggy was Bowie’s way to celebrate rock and roll, and comment on all its conventions. Again, he knew what he was doing. He wasn’t just aiming to get as many fans as possible. He wanted his fans to really think about what was going on in the live show, in music and in life in general. He really encouraged his audience to use their own intelligence and to interpret his work in their own way. I feel a great amount of respect from the artist when I listen to the music and watch his performances. I don’t feel like he’s patronising me or being arrogant. I just feel like he’s doing the performance, but that some part of him is completely conscious of what he’s doing objectively and that he has no ego.

Apparently, according to the things I’ve heard and read about him, Bowie was a really nice and down to earth person. In interviews he was always very intelligent, articulate, sweet and funny. Apparently he was also quite a private man. The characters he played in his songs are really different to the character of the artist himself.

Bowie made a few albums using the Ziggy Stardust persona, and toured America, and moved there I think. He recorded a couple of albums as Ziggy, but the character did change bit by bit, with a slightly different look emerging over time. He released a couple of albums with the Ziggy Stardust persona I believe. These are absolute bona fide rock classics. I’m talking about albums like Diamond Dogs.

I think by the mid 70s his life was moving extremely quickly and that’s evident in his music and his image. He went through so many different changes during that period and produced some wildly inventive yet accessible music. Eventually he killed off Ziggy (you can see video footage of him announcing it during a live concert – the audience seem devastated! He says, this is our last live concert, ever – and you hear gasps from people in the audience.
But he didn’t quit of course, he just came back with a new image, a new character.
Aladdin Sane.
He looked a bit like Ziggy, but he was darker and even more mysterious.

Then within just a year or two, Bowie changed again. Ziggy Stardust, then Aladdin Sane, and then a character was eventually called The Thin White Duke. He wore sharp suits and had his hair combed back. He used to walk around with a cane, and sometimes wore a hat. He was extremely debonair and suave looking, yet very thin and bony. Again, his combination of handsomeness, androgyny and alien weirdness gave him an allure and a charisma like nobody else.

At that time he was influenced by the soul and funk musicians of New York in the mid seventies. I can’t really explain all the influences and details of his different clothing choices. Essentially, he had his own style – and it influenced a lot of fashion that followed him. I think he had a huge influence on the styles of the 1980s. A lot of what musicians and fashion designers did the 1980s, Bowie had already done in the 70s. Bowie basically created the 1980s.

I think the Thin White Duke is my favourite Bowie period, although I love all of his changes. He was called that because he was thin (due to his lifestyle), he was white! (obviously – but this was more evident because of the fact that he had started playing soul and funk music, which were associated with a black audience – so compared to many of the black artists in his band and black people in his audiences he looked really white. And he was very pale anyway during that period, so I think he was pretty much the whitest dude on the planet, but playing what was considered to be black music.

And the music is the main thing I like about Bowie during this period. I generally love funk and soul music from the 70s, regardless of who is playing it – whether they’re black or white doesn’t matter much to me, in fact I prefer to have my music in with the full colour spectrum please – black, white, and everything in between – purple, brown, yellow, green, pink – if it’s a colour, I want it in my music! No black and white music please. So, Bowie’s funk period is really great. My favourite album from that time is Young Americans. It’s got tracks like “Young Americans” and “Fame” on it – deeply groovy, tough and yet smooth soulful dance tracks. He collaborated with John Lennon on Fame. Imagine that! A funky dance classic, with John Lennon of the Beatles.

END OF PART 1


CLICK HERE FOR PART 2

Here are lots of David Bowie Links and Videos.
Just take your pick and dive in.

Space Oddity studio version with lyrics

Space Oddity live on TV in 1969

Ziggy Stardust sings Starman on BBC Top of the Pops in 1972

David Bowie announces the end of Ziggy Stardust on stage

Aladdin Sane

Bowie interviewed by Dick Cavett in 1974, clearly under the influence of cocaine

Thin White Duke


Bowie in Berlin
Guardian article www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/13/david-bowie-berlin-years-heroes-just-a-gigolo

Fascinating interview from 1979

Bowie in 1983 criticises MTV for not playing black music

Bowie talks about acting and touring in 1983

Nile Rogers describes meeting David Bowie

Bowie – “The Interview Years”

Bowie & Comedy – Ricky Gervais described meeting Bowie

Phil Cornwell on Stella Street (skip to 5:00 for the David Bowie impression)

Documentaries


Adam Buxton’s Audio Bowie Documentary
This is my favourite Bowie tribute.
archive.org/details/AdamBuxtonOnDavidBowie31stMarch2013
YouTube version here but with the songs removed

The new tracks – Blackstar (the creepy video I watched on Monday morning while eating corn flakes) and Lazarus

Adam & Joe talk about Bowie and do some impressions
If you watch just one of the videos in this list, please watch this one. Adam & Joe obviously love Bowie very much, and their impressions and improvisations are a lot of fun.

294. California Road Trip (Part 7)

Hello listeners and welcome back. This is part 7 in this series which is based on my recent trip to California. I didn’t expect this to be a 7-part series, but it just keeps going because I’ve found more and more things to talk to you about! It’s like the podcast episode that refuses to die, it keeps coming back for more! It’s like the Lambton Worm or something – just when I think I’ve finished it off, it gets longer! I think this will be the last episode, but who knows. Time seems to shrink when I’m recording episodes of this podcast. An hour seems to disappear in just a few minutes because I get really involved in what I’m saying. I wonder if it’s the same experience for you. I hope so.

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]
If you haven’t heard the previous 6 episodes in this series then I suggest you go back and listen to them first. So far I’ve talked about lots of things including the history of California, some British & American English, Venice Beach, Segways, Baywatch, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hollywood & Celebrity Culture, Hotel California by The Eagles, Yosemite National Park, bears, The church of Scientology, an interview with AJ Hoge from Effortless English, a biography of Robin Williams, and descriptions of the things I did and saw while on my honeymoon with my wife.

In this episode I’m planning to talk about San Francisco, earthquakes, the hippie movement, customer service, the California coast and some more British and American English vocabulary.

A lot of what I am saying is transcribed on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk. Look for episode 294.

*I’m expecting a package to be delivered by the postman at some point, so you might hear a knock at the door or the buzzer. It goes ‘buzz’, so it’s not a doorbell it’s a buzzer.*

Let’s get straight into it.

August 16
Cemetery & view of Golden Gate Bridge.

Fisherman’s Wharf & tourist area. Sea lions that weirdly arrived in the harbour just after the 1989 earthquake. Why did they suddenly arrive after the quake? Perhaps their previous social spot had been damaged or something like that. I’m not sure.

Cable car. Long delay and pretty grumpy service but it’s a great experience, hanging on to the side of the car as the driver pulls various weird levers, making the car move up and along the steep streets. We met an American couple who had been married for over 30 years. The wife did all the talking. Apparently they’d been to a Giants game (baseball) and he had caught a loose ball that had flown into the crowd. Apparently this is quite an honour in the states. You can keep the ball.

I met AJ Hoge in the afternoon. Listen to the previous episode for that interview.

That evening we ate dinner in a really well-reviewed Japanese restaurant just near our hotel – Sanraku – incredible sushi! This is the best Japanese food I’ve ever had outside Japan, and I had a load of sake and a couple of beers. Sake is really nice and a little dangerous to drink because you get drunk without realising it because it has such a light taste.

August 17
Earthquake in the morning!
A bit about earthquakes.
Tectonic plates.
They move against each other. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they press against each other.
Sometimes pressure builds up and then the plates suddenly move at the fault lines. This causes ripples of movement through the ground, or the whole ground to suddenly shift position. The movements, ripples, vibrations or whatever you want to call them can last some time, and they can cause huge amounts of damage.
If the quake happens off-shore, then there’s likely to be a big tidal wave or tsunami after the event. As the ground is displaced very quickly, it can displace massive amounts of water. For example, it might cause the water level to rise suddenly. Imagine filling a plate with water and then tipping the plate slightly. It would cause some of the water to run off the side of the plate. It’s like that but on a much larger scale of course. The water has so much volume and mass that it is almost impossible to stop. When it reaches the land it carries lots of earth and all kinds of detritus with it, turning the wave into an incredibly powerful and unstoppable wall of destruction. You can see footage of this from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. What a tragedy that was (although the Japanese showed characteristic strength and determination in the way they recovered from it).

It pretty much impossible to predict an earthquake, but it seems that along the San Andreas fault at this particular spot near San Francisco, there is a really big earthquake every 70 years or something, and the big one is long overdue. In fact, the whole region of California is subject to earthquakes quite regularly.

Earthquake Myths and Facts
Here are some myths and facts about earthquakes, from the U.S. Geological Society website.
www.usgs.gov/faq/taxonomy/term/9830

San Francisco style
Everyone’s wearing sports gear and they’re all really health conscious. They’re constantly in their gym gear and they look very active and healthy. In fact, being healthy and looking after yourself seem to be important aspects of life in this part of the country.

Acai bowls
My wife persuades me to switch to these instead of the big plates of pancakes and its a good move.
Acai are berries that grow in Brazil and apparently they contain everything you need. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and all that stuff. These acai bowls are popular all along the coast. They’re a bit hipsterish, but they’re good. The acai berries are turned into a kind of powder, which is mixed with things like almond milk or hemp milk, and frozen fruits, and then blended to form a sort of sorbet. This is then put into a bowl and mixed with granola, nuts, cut banana and strawberry, and is topped with coconut flakes or other things. They’re really good and they keep you going for ages without making you feel bloated. In fact, you don’t feel that full, but you’re not hungry either, and it gives you plenty of energy and no guilt.

My wife is now on a mission to make acai bowls popular in Paris!

Haight Ashbury
We then walked towards the Haight Ashbury area. The plan is to walk all the way over to that part of town, picking up some coffee on route. Then we’d walk through HA, pick up lunch at Wholefoods there, and eat a picnic in Golden Gate Park where apparently there is live music every Sunday. I’m quite curious about Haight Ashbury, because I’ve heard about it and read about it so many times, especially in documentaries about music and art from the 1960s.

History of Haight Ashbury & the Hippy Movement
What happened in Haight Ashbury in the 60s? What was the hippy movement all about?

There was a counterculture movement, a youth movement in the USA (and in many other places of course) that started in the late 1950s but really gathered momentum in the 1960s, seemed to peak in the middle of that decade, and was pretty much over by the early 1970s. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, as I know that a lot of you listening to this are fans of the music that we associate with that time, and you may well know as much about this subject as I do, but nevertheless here is a brief history of the hippy movement.

This was a subculture and ideological movement which started with the beatniks earlier in the decade. “Beatniks” – that’s kind of a nickname given to the movement that came before the hippies. The beatniks were writers, artists, intellectuals and radicals who were united in a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. They rejected materialism (e.g. the idea that happiness in the USA can be found by marrying, getting a steady job, buying the right home with the right car, and the right modern accessories in your home and all that kind of square thinking). The Beats were more interested in soul-searching and trying to find some deeper meaning to life. This seems pretty normal now, and part of the dominant culture these days. Everyone has their soul-searching teenage period where they write a diary, write poetry and get all deep and meaningful. Well, that was common for teenagers of my generation in the UK, who got into indie music, started dressing like goths and smoked self-rolled cigarettes. The beats were the first to do that (although I expect there were other movements in Europe that did essentially the same thing, like the Bohemians). The Beats were heavily inspired by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and like this kind of jazz music, life for the Beats was a free-form search for truth and inspiration in the creative process. It was like a big improvisation with no boundaries. Sounds pretty groovy, hip and cool right? In fact those are words that come out of that time. All of them were probably coined by jazz musicians, but the beat generation appropriated them, or at least used them too. So, if things were good they were ‘cool’, or ‘hip’. You ‘dig’ things which are ‘cool’. The opposite of ‘cool’ was ‘square’.

We associate the Beat movement with certain writers, who are called the Beat writers, or Beat poets. These are people like Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and Ken Kesey. Some of the beats were into buddhism, sexual liberation and drug use. Out of this subculture came the hippies, who pretty much based their whole way of life on the ethos of the beat generation, and used books like “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac as a starting point for their own rejection of materialism and ‘normal’ life.

The word ‘hippie’ comes from the word ‘hip’, meaning ‘cool’ or in tune with this way of thinking. People also used the word ‘hipster’, but now we know we use the word ‘hipster’ for another kind of modern subculture – those uber-cool people who you find in East London who grow their own denim butter, have long beards and skinny jeans, use no electricity, ride fixie bikes, reject mainstream products in favour of vintage or handmade stuff, reject the dominant political system, and live in an apartment paid for by their rich parents. They’re similar to the beat generation or the hippies but today’s hipsters just seem to be more interested in just being cooler and more culturally aware than everyone else, and don’t have the same sort of communal spirit or mission as the hippies did.

Anyway, a whole generation of young people in the USA and in other parts of the world in the 1960s were really influenced by the beat generation and took on their values, and pushed them further – not everyone did this – not everyone at the time was a hippie. No, it was a subculture after all, but enough people lived the lifestyle for it to be a significant cultural movement. The hippies took it a bit further and embraced the whole concept, forming communes (shared living communities) in certain places – notably Haight Ashbury in SF and Greenwich Village in NYC (where the likes of Bob Dylan were playing protest songs and folk music in cafes).

The introduction of certain drugs, especially LSD into these communities really accelerated the whole movement, along with certain key events like the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the release of records like Bob Dylan’s first album, and albums by the Beatles. LSD was a drug that was created by accident by a pharmacist/chemist. It ended up being appropriated by the hippie movement because of the way it gave users incredibly transcendent mind trips, which made the hippies feel like they were experiencing things on a whole new level of consciousness. The innocence, youth, energy and vitality of this movement peaked in 1966/1967 particularly in the community of Haight Ashbury where, according to the accounts of lots of people, there were all kinds of open, free gatherings of people who took LSD, danced, made love and generally were very peaceful and transcendent, when they weren’t organising protests against the Vietnam war or other injustices. The hippies were for harmony with nature, sexual liberation, the use of drugs for mental liberation (aka consciousness revolution), peace, free love, communal living and eastern influenced spirituality. For the hippies, their immense optimism, fuelled by psychedelic drugs and perhaps a certain amount of naive idealism created the feeling that their love was going to change the world, and that there would be a sort of consciousness revolution which would cause the whole world to realise a totally new way of thinking and to start living in peace. The soundtrack to this period was albums like Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band by the Beatles. The thing is though, all the drug taking and free love did not come without a price, and it was naive of the hippies to think that their lifestyle was sustainable. True spiritual transcendence could not be achieved by simply taking a 2 dollar hit of acid, and many people just ended up mentally damaged by their use of LSD, and when harder and more addictive drugs like heroin arrived, the scene became much darker. In fact, hard drugs and other things like the later threat of AIDS pretty much killed the innocence and youthful spirit of the movement.

The optimism of the hippie movement and its decline were really well described by writer Hunter S. Thompson in his book Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. There is one particularly famous passage in which he describes the essence of the movement as like a wave that travelled across the country, then broke and flowed back again, leaving a sort of cultural high-water mark, or a cultural mark on the country. This is probably Thompson’s most celebrated bit of writing. There is a film version of the book, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp, who does an amazing acting performance in the role of the main character, who is a version of Hunter S. Thompson. Let’s listen to the scene from the film when Thompson talks about Haight Ashbury and the hippie movement. This is Hunter S. Thompson, played by Depp, in 1971, looking back at the previous 5 or 6 years, surveying what had happened before.

Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas – The High Water Mark

The Woodstock Music Festival was probably the culmination of this whole movement. It didn’t take place in San Francisco, but near New York. That was a massive happening, with hundreds of thousands of people who gathered together to celebrate love and peace, with some of the great bands and musicians of the time, like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash playing the soundtrack.

The end of the dream came with a few events that showed the dark side of all that drug taking and chaos – Charles Manson, Altamont (a Rolling Stones concert that involved the Hell’s Angels who killed a guy), hard drugs and their damaging effects, AIDs.

How does this relate to that Eagles song? They’re singing about people damaged by loss of innocence – the same people who used to be idealistic, but ended up lost in decadence and the temptations of sex, drugs and rock & roll.

Talking of rock & roll, let’s listen to George Harrison, who of course was a member of the Beatles and someone who was at the heart of this whole scene. Here he is from the Beatles Anthology documentary talking about how he visited Haight Ashbury in 1968 expecting it to be a kind of hippie heaven of peace and love, but in fact by 1968 it had become quite a scary place with lots of people just living in the street, begging and taking hard drugs (he described them as ‘bums’). I think it was quite a shock to him and that’s when he decided to stop taking LSD and he sort of rejected the hippie movement and instead chose to embrace Indian transcendental meditation – a much more disciplined and well-established form of spiritual exercise.

George Harrison (originally from Liverpool, UK) – Haight Ashbury 1968

What’s Haight Ashbury like now?
It still has that general atmosphere, but the original feeling is long gone I think. But it’s still a really cool place, and I was very interested in visiting it in order to see what it was really like. Now it’s artisanal coffee shops, a mix of branded clothing stores and unique clothing boutiques. Really it’s just another tourist destination where you can buy Bob Marley posters, hippie clothing, bongs, pipes and fake retro t-shirts. It’s a bit like Camden Town or something. It’s not a genuine place of consciousness revolution any more although there are still some communes of hippies living there and I think that there’s a lot of housing which is offered to homeless people, or people of no fixed address. In the surrounding streets I saw quite a few homeless people, or homeless looking people and people who seemed to be suffering from mental illness, or on medication for drug addiction. You also find some interesting murals painted on the walls with anti-capitalist messages written on them. That’s partly the feeling of the area, but also there’s a sense that the place is a bit of a tourist attraction. There’s Nike store there for example, which is like a temple to individualism and materialism.

Many people think that the place is not what it used to be. I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this, because the hippies were onto something good. Their intentions were good, but maybe they were idealistic and naive. Maybe they were reckless with their drug use and their free sex, or maybe their movement got crushed by the establishment. Anyway, now in Haight Ashbury there are just remnants of those old values. Lots of organic shops and incense and stuff like that, and certainly some people who believe in ethical and sustainable living, but still a sense of increasing commercialisation. I wonder about some of the locals who have lived in the area for a long time and who now find themselves living in a commercialised tourist attraction.

I think I may have come across one of these people during a visit to CVS – a chain of pharmacies that you find all over the USA. We went in to buy some bottled water. We chose one bottle of Californian water and one bottle of Fiji Water, which is bottled in Fiji and then shipped to shops around the world, including California. We got to the counter to pay and the middle-aged woman who served us just said, in a very passive aggressive manner, “Yeah, why NOT buy bottled water from the other side of the world”.

I recognised the sarcasm, and immediately felt judged. What was she really saying?

Guilt trip! This made me feel pretty bad for a while, until I snapped out of it.

What do you think? I expect most of you are thinking – ignore her, she was being really rude! And you’re right, but…

I think she had a point to be honest, but I’m not sure if she made it in the right way. (I mean, giving someone a guilt trip about a product they are selling someone may not be the best way to get your message across, or maybe it is – it had an effect on me!) The woman was certainly rude to me, but does that matter if her point is valid? I wonder what it must be like for her working in CVS, while having these values. Maybe she doesn’t have to work there, maybe she has no choice. Who knows. I don’t even know her background, but just that one comment tells me a lot. What do you think? Did she have a point? Is it wrong to buy bottled water which is sourced in another country? Should the woman have said something to me? Is she a hypocrite for working in the shop even when she disagrees with some of the products it sells? Let me know your thoughts as usual.

I did have another couple of experiences with slightly passive aggressive, weird behaviour.
Another guy by the side of the road who seems to be homeless, tried to attract my attention: “Oh did you drop something…hey!” I just kind of shook my head and smiled a bit, but said no. He said “oh no it’s just my brain entrails you’re stepping on” There is a slightly bad vibe from some of these old hippies, but nothing more than that really. I didn’t feel unsafe there or anything, just a bit freaked out by some of these people.

In the park there was a guy who could have been homeless, or mentally ill, I’m not sure really. He was busking, and by busking in this case I mean playing classic American songs, like Motown, The Beach Boys, Elvis on a loud tape player and just singing along – loudly and badly, like a bad public version of karaoke that nobody wanted to listen to. There were three youngish people sitting on the bench next to him, looking pretty awkward because this guy was pretty loud and acting quite crazily and I think it was a bit off-putting for them. After a while they got up to leave and didn’t really acknowledge him or give him any money, and he said “Hey, thanks for the tip!” – A pretty passive aggressive comment considering they hadn’t given him a tip. I think they were a bit put off and possibly slightly scared of him, and they didn’t respond but kept walking away. He repeated, louder and louder “Hey, thanks for the TIP!! HEY THANKS FOR THE TIP!!!” – a slightly disturbing moment, but nothing bad actually happened.

Despite some of these little scenes had a really nice relaxing time in Golden Gate Park, even though there was no music when we were there, except for the “thanks for the tip” guy. We lay on the grass reading and napping a bit, digesting our food.

More Audiobook Recommendations – www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke
Let’s continue to look at a few recommendations for California-related audiobooks you could download free by going to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke

The two books I’d like to recommend are associated with the Beat movement of American literature, which was so important to the values of the later hippy movement.

“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac
This is probably the book which inspired the hippy movement more than any other. This is what is written in the summary for this book on audible.com: Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free”.

Do you fancy listening to an actor read that book to you? Visit www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke to sign up to a trial membership. You can download any audiobook you want, and then either cancel your membership and keep the audiobook, or continue as a member and enjoy more audiobooks every month.

“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey was part of a group of writers called The Merry Pranksters, which also included a man called Neal Cassady who was one of the inspirations for a principle character in On The Road. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were a group who advocated a particular way of life that inspired the hippy movement. The Merry Pranksters sounded like a cool and funny bunch of people. They drove around America in a big bus. That was the inspiration for The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” film. Basically, Ken Kesey is a very important figure in the American counter cultural movement of the 1960s. A key writer in the Beat generation. Beat writers like Kesey influenced so many important cultural figures that followed them, including pretty much all of the famous rock musicians who emerged from the 60s and 70s, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Neil Young and everyone else basically. They’re the ones who defined that whole lifestyle that is now so globally pervasive.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the story of a charismatic criminal who ends up in a mental hospital when he’s not really mentally ill. He fakes it in order to avoid prison, thinking it will be much easier. What he discovers is that the mental institute is far more sinister than he’d imagined, and he ends up in a great mental power struggle against the strict nurse who runs the hospital. It’s all about the corrupting nature of power, about fighting against the establishment, about the fine line between sanity and insanity, and the idea there is something rotten at the heart of the American administration. What’s more, it’s just a great dramatic story, terrifically well written with some fantastic surprises. The main character is a lot of fun, and the evil Nurse Ratched is a great villain.
It’s sad, joyful, moving, and powerful, particularly at the end. There’s also a great film of this book, starring Jack Nicholson.
You can download the original version, narrated by Kesey himself (abridged and only 3-4 hours), but I recommend the 50th Anniversary Edition read by actor John C. Reilly (who I’m sure you’d recognise if you saw him – he’s a brilliant actor, with a really distinctive voice). It’s unabridged, so you get the whole book which comes to 10+ hours of audio.

End of Part 7. Part 8 coming soon, and I’m sure it will be the final chapter in this series. :)
Haight Ashbury

260. Kingsman: The Secret Service

In this episode I read out some poems written by listeners, and then it’s time for another episode of LFC (Luke’s Film Club). This time I’m reviewing the film Kingsman: The Secret Service. [Download]

Poems
Thank you for your poems in response to episode 258. I read some of them out in this episode. You can find the poems under episode 258.

kingsman_the_secret_service_ver7Kingsman: The Secret Service Film Review
Message from Dongsik (South Korean LEPSTER)
Luke, how are you?
It’s so abrupt but may I ask a favor of you?
Someday in your podcast, could you explain British culture in the film ‘Kingsman : the secret Seervice’? or just tell the audience about your thoughts on the film? If you don’t mind. For example, accent, clothes, social class, colin firth, whatever related to UK in the film. The movie really brings me back to UK. It’s so impressive to me.
I don’t push you, I kindly ask you, so I hope I could listen to those things in your podcast someday.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Trailer)

Overview
-What kind of film is it?
-Who directed it?
-Who is in it?
-What’s the plot?
-What did I think of it?
-Elements of British culture
Certain symbols or icons of Britishness or certainly London life.
Class: The upper class & the lower class.
Posh people & chavs/hooligans

Good Things
It’s fast & furious, it’s never boring, it is visually quite arresting, there are some great actors involved, some gripping moments of action, and some genuinely shocking and stunning moments. It’s pretty funny and entertaining.

Bad Things
It’s a bit too ‘laddish’ for me. It’s too violent (Did I say too violent? Me?) I’m okay with violence in films usually, but this seemed to go over the top, in one scene in particular – and seemed to just enjoy the cartoon violence a little bit too much, like in Kill Bill Vol.1. It has its cake and eats it too – it’s parodying all the clichés of spy films, but at the same time celebrating them, and bringing the genre back to a point before it was post-modern and deconstructed.

It seems to have the same values as an old Bond film from the 1970s. It’s stylish and very British, but also misogynistic and quite right-wing. The ending, for example, is like something from the end of a Roger Moore film, but even more suggestive and explicit. Perhaps I’m being old-fashioned or something, but I found it to be a confirmation of sexist stereotypes. I think it was misjudged and a bit clumsy to end on a moment like that.
*Spoiler alert* I explain the ending here… (no great surprises though)
Posh images: tailors on Saville Row and their suits, umbrellas, pinstripes, wood panelled offices and gentlemen’s clubs in Mayfair, glasses of whiskey, old school ties, the British Army & secret service, privilege, a sense of entitlement, disdain for the lower classes.
Lower class images: Council estates, pubs full of aggressive criminals, cockneys, young criminals & gang members, petty crime, drugs, alcohol, fast cars, domestic violence, an irresponsible Mum who is abused by a violent boyfriend, London grime music such as Dizzee Rascal (although this side of London life is better captured by Attack The Block), London youth dialect.

Culture clash – between working class and upper class.
Much of this iconography belongs to the world of movies, fantasy or simply to the past. Not many people dress like Colin Firth in this film, or indeed act like him.
Other film/culture references: James Bond, The Avengers, Michael Caine films like The Ipcress File, My Fair Lady, The Bourne Identity.

All in all, I think it will do well internationally. The audience in Paris seemed to enjoy it a lot. It will probably be a hit with young blokes around the world who get off on the values of old James Bond movies, and who like comic book violence and a bit of casual sexism too.

Have you seen this film? Would you like to see it?

258. Award Win / Thank you! / Poem

This is a very short podcast episode because I don’t have much time, but I just wanted to say a very sincere THANK YOU to everyone who voted for me in the 2014 Macmillan Love English Awards. I’m proud to say that I won my category: Best Blog 2014 for the 4th year in a row! I am absolutely delighted, and as a way of expressing my delight I’ve decided to write a poem (extremely quickly – it’s no masterpiece!) I hope you enjoy it, and thank you again! [Download]

Small Donate ButtonPlease write your own poems in the comments section. Just have fun and try to make the words rhyme. You can write a poem about anything, and it can be as short or as long as you like. Thank you! (If you can’t think of a topic – try writing something about LEP or learning English).

My Epic Masterpiece of a Poem – POEM OF THANKS!
I won the award
It’s thanks to y’all
I hope you’re not bored
by me talking about the award
All in all
It’s great to have you on board
You’re all from abroad
And you felt inclined
To take the time
To go online
And vote in kind
for the podcast that’s mine
It makes me feel fine
Like the sun that shines
Thank you to you
For doing what you did
And I hope you consid(er)
You’re the real winner
Because by voting for me you bring more attention to the site, raising the profile of the podcast, broadening the audience, and ultimately helping me to keep doing this with confidence, which then feeds into the way in which I record episodes, and encourages me to continue doing this project which I started 5 and a half years ago and which continues to amaze me in terms of how popular it is, how useful it is to many listeners, and how I could possibly turn this whole venture into a career.

The rhyming broke down, but I did say that I hadn’t prepared it, right?
It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just for fun.

Here’s the rejected part of my poem
And voting for who
You felt was more true
“I listen to you
when sitting on the loo”
Is a sentence that you
might use to describe
a side of your life
that involves listening to me
while you do a pee
because, you see
your time is quality
I mean you can see
That you have to multi task

Here’s the video of Eminem talking about rhyming

Why don’t you try to write a poem in the comments section?
You could try to continue my one (can you think of something that rhymes with ‘multi task’?) or you could create your own poem.
Remember: Just try to have fun and make the words rhyme. No pressure to be the next Eminem!

222. Luke’s Late Night Podcast

Take a musical trip through Luke’s hard-drive, in the middle of the night. Right-click here to download this episode.

Small Donate ButtonLate one night recently, I decided to record a podcast while randomly picking some pieces of music from my hard-drive and talking to you at the same time. This is the result.

There’s no language agenda in this episode in particular. It’s just me talking to you about various things while interspersing the episode with some music and other bits and pieces from my hard-drive.

Any music or other content in this episode is presented for educational purposes as part of my effort to aid people in their learning of English and culture.

Below you can read lyrics of some songs from this episode if you’d like to read to check your listening comprehension or pick up vocabulary.

Thanks for listening.

p.s. Competition Update: Voting closes this evening, and then I will count votes and eventually publish an episode with the names of the winner(s). Thanks for voting!

Song Lyrics

Arctic Monkeys – “Mardy Bum”
Buy “Mardy Bum” on iTunes here.
Well, now then Mardy Bum
I’ve seen your frown
And it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun
And it goes off
And out come all these words
Oh there’s a very pleasant side to you
A side I much prefer

It’s one that laughs and jokes around
Remember cuddles in the kitchen
Yeah, to get things off the ground
And it was up, up and away
Oh, but it’s right hard to remember
That on a day like today when you’re all argumentative
And you’ve got that face on

Well, now then Mardy Bum
Oh I’m in trouble again, aren’t I?
I thought as much
‘Cause you turned over there
Pulling that silent disappointment face
The one that I can’t bear

Well, can’t we just laugh and joke around
Remember cuddles in the kitchen
Yeah, to get things off the ground
And it was up, up and away
Oh, but it’s right hard to remember
That on a day like today when you’re all argumentative
And you’ve got that face on

Yeah I’m sorry I was late
But I missed the train
And then the traffic was a state
And I can’t be arsed to carry on in this debate
That reoccurs, oh when you say I don’t care
But of course I do, yeah I clearly do!

So laugh and joke around
Remember cuddles in the kitchen
Yeah, to get things off the ground
And it was up, up and away
Oh, but it’s right hard to remember
That on a day like today when you’re all argumentative
And you’ve got that face on

Black Sabbath – “The Wizard”
Buy “The Wizard on iTunes here.
Misty morning, clouds in the sky
Without warning, the wizard walks by
Casting his shadow, weaving his spell
Funny clothes, tinkling bell

Never talking
Just keeps walking
spreading his magic

Evil power disappears
Demons worry when the wizard is near
He turns tears into joy
Everyone’s happy when the wizard walks by

Never talking
Just keeps walking
spreading his magic

Sun is shining, clouds have gone by
All the people give a happy sigh
He has passed by, giving his sign
Left all the people feeling so fine

Never talking
Just keeps walking
spreading his magic

Charles Bukowski – “The Life of the King”
Unfortunately I can’t find the lyrics to this, but here is a video featuring Bukowski reading his poem “The Life of the King”, if you’d like to listen to it again.

Curtis Mayfield – “Pusherman”
Buy “Pusherman” in iTunes here.
I’m your mama, I’m your daddy,
I’m that nigga in the alley.
I’m your doctor when in need.
Want some coke? Have some weed.
You know me, I’m your friend,
Your main boy, thick and thin.
I’m your pusherman.

Ain’t I clean, bad machine
Super cool, super mean
Dealin’ good, for The Man.
Superfly, here I stand.
Secret stash, heavy bread,
Baddest bitches in the bed,
I’m your pusherman

Silent life of crime
A man of odd circumstance,
A victim of ghetto demands.
Feed me money for style
And I’ll let you trip for a while.
Insecure from the past,
How long can a good thing last?
No, no, no

Got to be mellow, y’all
Got to get mellow, now
Pusherman gettin’ mellow, y’all

Heavy mind, every sign
Makin’ money all the time
My LD and just me
For all junkies to see
Ghetto Prince is my thing
Makin’ love’s how I swing
I’m your pusherman

Two bags, please
For a generous fee
Make your world what you want it to be
Got a woman I love desperately
Wanna give her somethin’ better than me
Been told I can’t be nuthin’ else
Just a hustler in spite of myself
I know I can break it
This life just don’t make it
Lord, Lord, yeah

Got to get mellow, now
Gotta be mellow, y’all
Got to get mellow, now

I’m your mama, I’m your daddy,
I’m that nigga in the alley.
I’m your doctor when in need.
Want some coke? Have some weed.
You know me, I’m your friend,
Your main boy, thick and thin.
I’m your pusherman.
I’m your pusherman.
I’m your pusherman.
I’m your pusherman.
Lord, Lord

Victor Wooten – “Music as a Language” Click here for a version with subtitles.

144. The Chaos of English Pronunciation

3 poems that demonstrate some difficulties with English spelling and pronunciation. You can read the poems below, and listen to me reading them out loud in this episode, which will help you to understand how these difficult words are really pronounced.

Right-click here to download this episode.

Small Donate ButtonToday I shared a poem on Facebook. It was written to highlight all the inconsistencies in English spelling and pronunciation. In this episode I read the poem to you, demonstrating the correct way to say all the words. It’s a very challenging poem, so I hope I get them all right! If you find any errors, correct me by leaving a comment below.

I also read a couple of other poems about English pronunciation below.

Enjoy the episode and I hope you find it useful.

Poem 1: “The Chaos” by  Gerard Nolst Trenité
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough —
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!
*This poem is a nightmare!*

Poem 2: “Why English is so hard to learn”
We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Poem 3: Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it
was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

That’s it for now. More episodes soon.

133. Hip-Hop Lyric Analysis

A look at hip-hop culture and analysis of the lyrics to a classic rap song. FULL TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE BELOW, OH YES!

Right-click here to download this episode.
There’s an introduction, then the lyric analysis begins at about 21mins.
HIP HOP LYRIC ANALYSIS

Small Donate ButtonI wonder if you’re a fan of hip hop. Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. If you already are, then sit back, enjoy the episode. If you’re not then listen on, because you might learn something about the world of hip hop music which you previously didn’t know. You can also learn some slang in the process.

In this episode:

1. I’ll tell you a bit about hip hop, and its history, but not too much because I don’t want to bore you.

2. We’ll listen to some hip hop and have a look at the lyrics and analyse them. I’ll explain them, and kind of give you my thoughts on them.

There is music in the background on this one. I thought it was appropriate because of the subject of this episode. Future episodes will not always have music, but this one does. If you really can’t hear what I’m saying then let me know and I might be able to upload this episode again without the background music. If you like the music and would like to hear more, let me know by commenting on this episode. I should be able to recommend some albums or tracks for you.

I understand that hip hop is not everyone’s cup of tea, or perhaps you’ve never considered listening to it. Well, you know with Luke’s English Podcast you never know what you’re going to get each time. Variety. This time it’s hip hop, next time it might be about something else like kittens. A whole episode about kittens, that would be nice, or maybe something about football… that’s in the pipeline, and more interviews and all kinds of things, but for now it’s all about da hip hop game, straight up, no nonsense, no diggidy, no doubt, the ill communication… You’re probably thinking, “why is Luke speaking strangely, or more strangely than usual”. Well, I’m throwing in a bit of hop hop slang into my sentences sometimes, just for a laugh really.

I love hip-hop but sometimes I don’t feel like I can truly relate to it. It’s an amazing musical genre. There’s a lot of talent, great music and clever lyrics.

What are The 3 elements of hip hop? How did it develop?
First of all, the term ‘hip hop’ is used to refer to both the musical genre and the culture in general. This culture of hip hop is considered to have a number of elements. I think it boils down to about 3 main things:

1. DJing – this involves the creating of loops of music, usually taken from old jazz or funk records played on two turntables. This is clever because it involves a lot of skill. Two copies of the record are needed, and the record needs to be chosen carefully. Usually the piece of music to be looped is a drum break from a funk tune. That’s the bit where only the drums are playing. That section is just played over and over on the two turntables, the same bit being played and then rewound and played again- the music gets looped, and you get a continuous beat which people can dance to or rap over. The DJs would either do it live at parties or they would make mix tapes to be shared and used as the backing track for rapping.

2. Rapping. This is talking into the microphone over the top of the beat. The best rapping involves clever rhyming of words, and a unique flow or rhythm in your voice. It’s also known as MCing. MC means master or ceremonies. The original job of the MC was to be a kind of host for a party. He or she would liven up the audience and get the atmosphere going. Later, MCs started rhyming and creating stories or commentaries. MCs sometimes battle with each other. This means that they take turns to do a verse of rhyming in which they have to be more inventive, funny or insulting than the other one. An example of this can be seen in the movie 8 Mile with Eminem.

3. Breakdancing. This was the dancing associated with hip-hop in the early days. People seem to do it less these days. It involves body popping, robotic movements, or acrobatic spins and jumps. It’s also possible to have a breakdancing battle in which two teams take turns to perform better and better dance moves.
Graffiti is also associated with hip hop. That’s the painting of large graphics or tags in public places using spray cans. Now, DJing has been replaced by more sophisticated forms of sequencing and sampling using computers, but the effect is still the same – funky beats and samples of well chosen old records. Beats can also be created without samples as well, but most of the classic hip hop of the 90s was made with samples from 60s jazz/funk records.

Some also consider ‘knowledge’ to be an essential part of hip hop culture. This means the understanding of your cultural history and the reality of the situation you are living in. More specifically this relates to the condition of black Americans as a cultural minority in the United States, but it can also apply to a wider state of mind in which you ‘keep it real’. Keeping it real just means being true to yourself, trying to ascertain what really is going on around you, questioning authority and everything around you and not believing ‘the hype’. Public Enemy released a famous rap/hip-hop track called ‘Don’t Believe The hype’. I think the message of this is ‘don’t believe what you read in the papers, or don’t believe what everyone says about something. Check it out for yourself first. Have some independence of thought. Don’t accept the common opinion. Have confidence in your own sense of judgement. Don’t believe the hype.

Click here to hear Public Enemy “Don’t believe da hype”

Hip-Hop is also notable for it’s recycling of previously released music, particularly music created by soul, funk and jazz artists of the previous generation. This shows us how hip-hop is a kind of ‘do it yourself’ cultural movement. The musicians who made this music just used what was available to them there at the time. They didn’t have instruments, or classical musical training. There wasn’t a lot of money going round. What they did have was old records, possibly from their parents’ generation, and so they used that as a resource. If they were lucky they had record decks or other equipment. Otherwise they would use tape players to crudely edit together selected pieces of music from old records. This cut and paste approach is one of the things that defines hip-hop culture.

My personal favourite era for hip hop is the early to mid nineties. I think this is when it was at its best. If I could recommend one hip hop album it would be “Midnight Marauders” by A Tribe Called Quest. Why? The samples are very well chosen (some amazing bits of classic soul, funk or jazz) the music is positive, the rhyming is inventive and funny, it’s catchy, I never get bored of listening to it and it always puts me in a good mood and reminds me of great times. I strongly believe it will be considered one of the all-time great hip hop albums. Click here to see the album on Amazon.

Hip Hop music is often associated with poor urbanised black american communities, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not about being poor black Americans. The music might have come from that community, but ultimately music transcends racial barriers and can be enjoyed by everyone. But, saying that, there is something weird about middle class English white kids acting like rappers from Compton. They’re not keeping it real, and the importance of keeping it real is one of the things you can learn from hip hop. Be true to yourself, don’t play yourself because that’s just straight up wack! A lot of rappers are very rich these days. Some are white, some are of other ethnicities. This just goes to show that it’s not just a simple question of black or white, rich or poor or whatever. Gangster rap is one sub-genre of rap music. There are other types of hip hop that don’t involve being a gangster. Positive hip-hop or political hip-hop. I suppose within gangsta rap there is the idea that hip-hop can be a way for poor people in America can escape from the ghetto. In the case of someone like Jay-Z who apparently used to live a gangster life, music did help him to escape the world of crime.

Hip hop music can give you an insight into life in the ghetto in America. The stories I hear in rap are like crime novels or a gangster movies. They can be evocative, moving, frightening and just very exciting tales of life on the edge. I must say though, as a white middle class English guy I can’t fully relate to the music, and sometimes I feel slightly ridiculous listening to rap music. I find I feel embarrassed sometimes listening to tales of the gangster life while I’m on shopping in Tescos or walking along the Champs Elysees. I can’t really relate to it, but nevertheless I love the music, and I wonder if you also like hip hop.

Anyway, I decided to play some hip hop in this episode and discuss the lyrics with you. First up, it’s a genuine hip hop classic. This one is from the 90s which is the best era for hip hop in my opinion. It’s basically gangsta rap. It’s moody, dark and tells a story of how difficult life can be in the ghetto. The track is called “My mind is playing tricks on me” by Geto Boys. Listen to the track, and then I will explain it all, and analyse the lyrics after. You’ll appreciate it more when you hear it the second time. If you like it, click the link to see the album on Amazon, where you can buy it and support this group. If hip hop is not your thing then I hope this episode at least educates you about a musical genre that you’re not familiar with. You don’t have to like it, but knowledge is power. Also, the English you’ll hear is a dialect (to an extent).  It’s the language of black American youth, and this is one of the most pervasive English dialects. It has influence on many informal dialects in English, including youth in London and all over the UK in fact. It’s interesting that the social group with the least status – poor African Americans, has some of the most widespread cultural influence though its music and its English slang. Well, maybe that’s the thing about hip-hop – it really changed the status of many poor young people in America, by making them into superstars. Although being a superstar is not the end of your problems of course, because you know, Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems… So, here it is.

GETO BOYS LYRICS

“My Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me”

Click here to check out the song on YouTube

[Intro: Scarface] 

I sit alone in my four-cornered room staring at candles

“Cool out man, we on the Radio dukes”

We’re on the Radio dukes

“yeah”

Ooh, alright, check this here

 

[Verse 1: Scarface] 

At night I can’t sleep, I toss and turn

He’s having a bad night. He can’t sleep. Maybe he’s had too much coffee, or maybe he’s got an exam tomorrow. You know the feeling, you’re nervous, you can’t sleep. Very frustrating.

Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned

If he’s got candles burning I’m not surprised he can’t sleep. You need to extinguish all lights. Anyway, he shouldn’t leave a candle burning when he’s going to sleep. It’s quite dangerous, it might start a fire and the smoke could choke him to death in his sleep, or he could be very badly burned.

Visions of bodies being burned. He’s having a very bad night. I know that sometimes your mind wanders  when you can’t sleep but that’s quite extreme. Maybe he’s been watching too much of The Walking Dead. It’s ironic that he’s thinking of burning bodies when he’s dangerously leaving candles lit while going to sleep.

Four walls just closing in, getting bigger

I know the feeling. It can be like you’re trapped in your room, especially if you’ve been indoors all evening revising and now you can’t sleep.

I’m paranoid, sleepin’ with my finger on the trigger

Woa! He’s sleeping with a gun in his hand and his finger on the trigger? He’s likely to have a bad accident, especially if he starts to drop off to sleep and his hand jerks. He must be paranoid if he’s sleeping with a gun. I wonder what happened.

My mother’s always stressin’ I ain’t livin’ right

Well, she’s right because already you’ve got naked flames and a gun in the flat.

But I ain’t going out without a fight

Ok, he’s determined.

See, everytime my eyes close

I start sweatin’ and blood starts comin’ out my nose

You might want to get that looked at. If blood comes out of your nose when you close your eyes, you might have a serious condition. I don’t think it’s paranoia. Those are genuine symptoms. Go to a doctor. Call NHS direct at least.

There’s somebody watchin’ the Ack’

But I don’t know who it is, so I’m watchin’ my back

OK, I’m not sure what that means but it seems that someone is watching him, and apparently they’re not really looking after him because they haven’t stepped in to give advice or help. Whoever this person is, it seems that they don’t have his best interest at heart. Again, I don’t think he’s being paranoid. This guy is probably not a friend. But then again it is quite normal to just see the same people in your neighbourhood and just because they’re not friendly, it doesn’t mean they want to kill you. I mean, in London I never talked to my neighbours but I saw them all the time. Didn’t mean I wanted to kill them. Just saying.

I can see him when I’m deep in the covers

When I awake I hear a car burning rubber

When he’s deep in the covers, that means when he’s in bed. So, what he can see him when he’s in his bed? That is pretty weird, what is he doing in the guy’s bed?? Or maybe he’s in the bed and looking out of the window and he can see him in the street or something. Oh I see, he can see him in his sleep. Bad dreams.

He owns a black hat like I own

A black suit and a cane like my own

Perhaps this is just a mirror. I wonder if he’s considered the fact that he’s seeing his own reflection in windows or something. That happened to me once. I was walking alone in the street and I thought I saw someone following me. I got really scared and ran home. Turned out it was just my own reflection in the windows of houses. I used to be scared of the dark so I suppose my mind was playing tricks on me too.

Some might say, “Take a chill, B”

Yes, it’s a good idea. Take a chill. Relax. Have a cup of tea. Watch some telly. Put your feet up. Just take the afternoon off. No need to go round being a gangster today. It’s hard work being a gangster. Just take it easy for a change. You’ve got to look after your health. Take some you-time. Just watch “Friday” or something.

But I can’t see, because there’s somebody trying to kill me

Mmm, that will tend to make you a bit uptight.

I’m poppin’ in the clip when the wind blows

Every twenty seconds got me peepin’ out my window

This means he’s putting a clip of ammunition into his gun whenever the wind blows. Now, the wind blows quite a lot, especially when it’s windy. Does this mean he’s just putting the clip in when he hears the wind, and then going “oh no it’s just the wind” and then taking it out, but then hearing the wind again and going “What the hell is that?!” and popping the clip back in again, and again and again. He needs a holiday. He’s peeping out of his window, with a gun. THis is an awful situation.

Investigatin’ the joint for traps

Checkin’ my telephone for taps

Ok, so I assume that he’s really nervous because of something he did in his past. Maybe he criticised someone’s mother, or stepped on someone’s sneaker. Now he’s worried that someone wants to take revenge on him and he’s so paranoid that he’s convinced that someone has set traps in his house. Perhaps like a bucket of water above the door and when you open it = splash. Or worse. Maybe a broken chair or a whoopee cushion. He’s checking the phone for taps. That’s a wire tap. Perhaps people are trying to listen in to his conversations. It could be the mob getting ready to kill him or the FBI surveying him, or maybe he’s just been smoking too much weed and he’s imagining it all.

I’m starin’ at the woman on the corner

It’s f*cked up, when your mind is playin’ tricks on you

The woman on the corner? I expect that is a prostitute. It’s quite sad that there’s always a woman on the corner. It’s even sadder that this guy is staring at her because he’s paranoid that ‘someone is trying to kill him’.

[Verse 2: Willie D]

I make big money, I drive big cars

Everybody know me, it’s like I’m a movie star

Sounds like Luke from Luke’s English Podcast.

But late at night, somethin’ ain’t right

I feel I’m being tailed by the same sucker’s head lights

This means he feels like someone is following him. He’s being tailed by someone’s headlights. But normally you’re tailed by someone in a car, not just some headlights.

Is it that fool that I ran off the block?

Or is it that clown last week that I shot?

He shot a clown? Why did he shoot a clown? They’re basically harmless. They’re just kids’ entertainers. He’s gone too far, shooting a clown.

To be honest, I think that by ‘clown’ he means a ‘fool’ or an ‘idiot’. But really, was it necessary to shoot the guy? Two words: Gun Control.

Or is it the one I beat for five thousand dollars

He beat a guy for 5 thousand dollars. That is a lot of money but is it worth it for the risk. You could be sent to prison for aggravated assault. I’m not surprised he’s having a bad time, because you know “what goes around comes around”.

Thought he had caine but it was Gold Medal Flour

His mind really is playing tricks on him. He’s seeing people doing their grocery shopping, and mistaking them for badass gangsters who want to kill him. The guy needs to just stay in for a while and wait for this all to blow over.

Reach under my seat, grabbed my popper for the suckers

Ain’t no use to me lyin, I was scareder than a mother*****

This means he reached under his seat to get his gun in order to shoot these bad rude boys, and truth be told he was very frightened. Scareder (not correct English) than a mother-. One can only assume that ‘a mother’ is usually quite scared, for some reason. I think we know he is referring not to a Mum, but to a swearword, a motherf***er

Hooked a left into Popeye’s and bailed out quick

If it’s goin’ down, let’s get it over with

So, in order to escape, or find a good place to hide or escape he turned a quick left into what I assume is some kind of shop. He was ready to have a fight if it was necessary. So, he thinks that these gang-bangers are going to get him as an act of revenge, but perhaps he’s just paranoid and imaginging it all.

Here they come, just like I figured

I got my hand on the chrome (gold?) plated the trigger

So, they’re coming just as expected. He’s got his hand on his chrome plated gun. The trigger is the part that your finger squeezes to fire the gun..

What I saw’ll make your ass start gigglin’

Three black crippled and crazy senior citizens

What he saw will make you laugh because it was three black crippled and crazy old people. He must have been tripping because he thought they were all gangsters. He’s in a real mess.

I live by the sword

I take my boys everywhere I go, because I’m paranoid

To live by the sword means you live a violent life. He takes his boys everywhere – not his sons I imagine, but some of his home-boys, some friends or fellow gangsters as protection.

I keep lookin’ over my shoulder and peepin’ around corners

My mind is playin’ tricks on me

Looking over his shoulder, looking around corners. He’s certainly got to be vigilant at times like this.

[Verse 3: Scarface]

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope

I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope

Ok, this really is a messed up life. He’s find it hard to cope. He can’t manage it or deal with the pressure. He feels like he’s the one doing dope – I guess this is a reference to the fact that he’s a drug dealer, and usually his clients are the ones who are strung out and losing control of their lives because of the drugs they’re taking, but this time even he is losing control. This is a messed up story of criminal life in America. Have you seen Scarface? This song is one of many similar crime stories which for me form part of American popular culture in literature, film and music. Yes, I’m saying this is art. Sue me.

Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous

Every Sunday mornin’ I’m in service

Prayin’ for forgiveness

And tryin’ to find an exit out the business

He’s going to church every sunday, praying to be forgiven by god, and trying to find a way to leave this terrible business of drug dealing and extortion. So, he does want to get out but apparently he is trapped. I wonder what you think. Does he have a choice? I suppose he is so deep in crime that if he tries to leave he risks losing his life.

I know the Lord is lookin’ at me

But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy

He believes in god but it’s almost not enough because of his guilty conscience.

I often drift while I drive

Havin’ fatal thoughts of suicide

BANG and get it over with

And then I’m worry-free, but that’s nonsense

He sometimes considers killing himself in order to escape, but yes, that’s nonsense. Suicide is the coward’s way out.

I got a little boy to look after

And if I died then my child would be a bastard

Technically that is true. That’s in line with the literal meaning of ‘bastard’ but does it also mean his son would be a bad guy? Quite possibly, if he’s deprived of a father and growing up in tough conditions, and considering his Dad is a bit of a bastard apparently it must run in the family, so yes if he is killed then his son is likely to be a bit of a bastard. BUt also, his son would be fatherless, and that’s serious.

I had a woman down with me

But to me it seems like she was down to get me

He used to have a girl friend, but it seemed she didn’t support him. Maybe she was not good for him. Maybe she nagged him, and it didn’t help.

She helped me out in this

But to me she was just another chick

OK, she did help a bit, but he didn’t love her. Sad story. Sorry listeners.

Now she’s back with her mother

Now I’m realizing that I love her

All right, so he does love her! Make your mind up!

Now I’m feelin’ lonely

My mind is playin’ tricks on me

You have my sympathy sir. Although I do think it was wrong that you committed those crimes and you shouldn’t have done it. There’s no way of justifying those criminal acts. Still, I will raise a glass to you sir.

[Verse 4: Bushwick Bill]

This year Halloween fell on a weekend

Me and Geto Boys went trick-or-treatin’

Robbin’ little kids for bags

So they went trick or treating. Not exactly the behaviour of authentic straight up gangstas. Why are they trick or treating? Aren’t they a bit old for that now? Don’t they have business to attend to?

And robbing little kids for bags?? Really? Literally stealing candy from children. That’s hardly the way a true gangsta rolls? It’s almost pathetic, stealing sweets from children. It’s a serious act of bullying and seems out of character. So these are very well esteemed bad-boy gangstas, who act like they’ve killed and done bad things, and here they are stealing sweeties from kids. Pathetic.

Till an old man got behind our rags

Too right. The old man was correct and I’m glad a member of the community stepped in to get behind their rags and tell them off.

So we speeded up the pace

Took a look back, and he was right before our face

They decided to leave quickly and walked away, but when they turned around he was right up in their face. Wow, that guy is fast!

He’d be in for a squabble no doubt

So I swung and and tried to take him out

So the guy wanted a fight, so Bill swung his fist and tried to knock him down. ‘Take him out’

He was goin’ down, we planned

But this wasn’t no ordinary man

The plan was to put this guy down, but apparently this was no ordinary man. Maybe it was, like, Batman or just an extraordinarily tough guy who they shouldn’t have messed with.

He stood about six or seven feet

Now, that’s the creep I’d be seein’ in my sleep

This is a very tall guy, and the ‘creep’ he’d been seeing in his sleep too. So, this is the scary guy that Bill was dreaming about earlier on. Wow, so here he is in a fight with him. Scary.

So we triple-teamed on him

Droppin’ them 5th ward B’s on him

Triple teamed on him – this means the 3 of them teamed up to fight him together. Ladies or in fact anyone else, if you’re listening – I’m sorry about the violence. More civilised topics will be dealt with in due course.

The more I swung the more blood flew

Then he disappeared and my boys disappeared too

The more he punched the more blood there was, but then suddenly he disappeared, and so did his friends.

Then I felt just like a fiend

It wasn’t even close to Halloween

He felt just like a fiend – this is someone who is evil and kind of obsessed by doing bad things. So, he frightened himself by realising he was a fiend, a monster. This is dark…

It was dark as death on the streets

My hands were all bloody from punchings on the concrete

Oh man, homie

My mind is playin’ tricks on me

The streets were pitch black, and his hands were bleeding from punching the concrete. So, he imagined or hallucinated the whole thing and in fact had been punching the street itself thinking it was a man. His mind is playing tricks on him.

 

What a dark tale.

Let’s lighten things up a bit. Now we’re going to listen to a short rhyme by De La Soul from their amazing album 3 Feet High and Rising. This one is all about the importance of washing yourself with soap to avoid BO or Body Odour, which can be a problem on public transport for example. Again, listen to the whole tune and then I will explain…

De La Soul “A Little Bit of Soap” – Click here to listen to the song on YouTube

Please, listen to this simple De La style I’m gonna sing

It’s strongly directed to all the misery you’re bringing

Now I’m not all about dissing someone else personnel

But there’s no quota on your odor, that’s right, you smell

Now you might feel a little embarrassed, don’t take it too hard

And don’t make it worse by covering it up with some Right Guard

Before you even put on your silk shirt and fat gold rope

Please, take your big ass to the bathroom

And please use a little bit of soap

Okay, contestant number two, do you have the answers?

No, no I don’t

SOME HIP HOP SLANG, DEFINED:

da hip hop game = the hip hop industry. ‘da’ means ‘the’

straight up = simply

no nonsense = simple

no diggidy = no doubt, definitely

the ill communication = ‘ill’ here means ‘good’

wack = not cool

sucka = a sucker, a stupid person

 

LINKS:

For more hip hop slang, click here.

To download some free hip hop mixes, click here. I personally recommend this one.

Visit this page to play around with ‘gizoogle’, which is a website that translates everything into hip hop slang.

Here’s an example of what it does. Look at the below sentence, which is normal.

Hello, my name is Luke and I am an English teacher. You probably know me from my podcast which is called Luke’s English Podcast. I really enjoy making episodes of my show and I hope that you like listening to it. Good luck!

Here’s the hip-hop slang version:

Yo muthaf*cka, hoes call me Luke n’ I be a Gangsta mackdaddy n’ sh*t. Yo ass probably know me from mah podcast which is called Lukez Gangsta Podcast. I straight-up trip off makin episodez of mah show n’ I hope dat you like listenin ta dat sh*t. Dope luck!

‘Dope luck’ indeed…

78. Christmas – It’s all about Family

This episode is all about Christmas. Learn plenty of general English vocabulary and culture.
You will find some vocabulary and definitions below.

Small Donate ButtonRight-click here to download.

In this episode I talk to my brother (James) about Christmas, and plenty of other things too!

*Caution – this episode contains some rude language and swearing :)*

This is a natural conversation between my brother and me. We talk mainly about Christmas and what it means to us as Londoners in England, UK. We also talk about other things as we naturally get sidetracked during the conversation.
The intention of the conversation is to explain what Christmas really means to us. Some of the things we say are intended to be humourous, which means sometimes we use irony, but most of the time we are being serious.
It might be difficult for you to follow everything we say, but we explain many things while talking. I have made a list of vocabulary and expressions that we use in the conversation. You will find this list of vocabulary and definitions below. Many of the definitions come from this website: www.thefreedictionary.com/, and some of the definitions are written by me.

I recommend that you check the vocabulary and expressions in your own dictionary too, and look for examples of the expressions online by googling them. Listen to this podcast several times to really catch all the expressions and to listen to them being used in the natural context of our conversation. Then try to use the expressions yourself, in your own conversations or just while practising English alone.

TRANSCRIPT
Vocabulary is defined below the transcript.

[0:00]
L – Luke
J – James

L: Hello and welcome to this Christmas episode of Luke’s English Podcast. Now, today I’m joined once again by my brother James. Hello James.
J: Hello.
L: And today we’re going to tell you all about what a typical Christmas is for most people in the UK. The UK?
J: Well, yes. I suppose we are specifically Southern England. You know, there are slightly different traditions around the UK such as Scotland may do things slightly differently up north of England things. So, I suppose, we can only really claim to represent Southern England.
L: Or like London. To be honest really, I think, we can only talk for ourselves. So mainly what we’re going to do in this episode is just tell you about what Christmas really means to us.
J: But I suppose it is fairly typical of English and British people.
L: That’s true, that’s absolutely right. So, we’re going to tell you about a typical Christmas for us, here in London, in England, in Britain, in the UK, in Europe, in the world etc. Right? And also we’re going to teach you, along the way… we are going to teach you bits of vocabulary and expressions that relate to Christmas and New Year and all the things and celebrations and various aspects of Christmas. Okay? So, cultural stuff and a bit of vocab in the process.
J: Okay.
L: Yeah. So, how are you doing?
J: I’m okay. I’ve got a bit of a cold, but I’m fine.
(sound of phone ringing)
L: Oh, the flimmin [this is not a word] phone , I bet that’s a cold caller.
(sound of phone ringing)
J: Luke’s just gone to answer the phone. This is sometimes a common thing.
L: (answering the phone ) Hello, Luke’s English Podcast.
(after a while)
L: No.
(sound of hanging up the phone)
J: Yes, very common thing. People get hold of your phone number through the telephone directory and they phone you up trying to sell you stuff or sometimes is just a robotic voice trying to sell you something. Very annoying and very little you can do about it.
L: That was a robot voice then it said: “Hello, this is an important recorded message for Luke Thompson.” And so immediately I knew it was a cold caller. Right?
J: It’s borderline illegal although…
L: It’s very annoying.
J: It’s very annoying. It’s well into the annoying category. Yeah.
L: We call them “cold calling”, because it’s a way for companies to just call someone without any warning…
J: Without any previous interactions, so as sort of a warm contact would be if they already answered a question essay and they wish to receive more information, but in this instance he hadn’t been asked. So that’s why it’s a “cold call”.
L: Because they’re just calling you without any previous contact at all. Cold call, which is ironic, because when the phone rang, you were just telling everyone that you had a cold.
J: Different meaning of cold. Cold is just, well I guess it’s the same around the world, a mild flu.
L: Yeah. It’s like a virus that goes round. And everyone kind of catches it. Because people always say: “Oh yeah, there is a cold going round”, you know. “It goes round” that means that, you know, it passes from person to person.
J: Especially in a place like London, where we have very tight concentration of people on public transport and cold and minor diseases, that sounds disgusting, but sorry it’s true…
L: Minor diseases.
J: Minor diseases can spread quite easily through the handrails and the shared air that you got on the ground.
L: Yeah, it’s right.
J: It’s common thing in London to get cold quite a lot.
L: Basically the London underground is just…
J: …a breeding ground for disease and infection.
L: A breeding ground for disease and infection. So that’s true.
J: There you go. Some people say this podcast is too positive. So, there you go. We’re given you a negative there.
L: My brother believes that sometimes in this podcast I just… I’m just too positive about things. I don’t agree, I think, you haven’t really listened to many of the episodes.
J: No, I’ve hardly listened to any of them, to be honest.
L: You haven’t really listened to the episode that you’re in.
J: No, I haven’t, I was too embarrassing.
L: And I did say “you’re in”, I didn’t say “urine” there.
J: Good.
L: We don’t ever mention urine on the show…
J: …in this house.
L: …until now.
J: Let’s get to the point.
L: Can I just explain what happened there? Sometimes in English words can sound like other words. Right? Like if you say the word “you’re” meaning “you are” and “in”, “you are in” it can sound a bit like the word “urine”. Right? “You’re in”, “urine”.
J: It’s not a very good joke, but some examples of this work better than others.
L: I don’t think that’s really a joke, it’s more just a coincidence.
J: It’s a double meaning.
L: Urine/You’re in.
J: So you could for instance… I don’t know if should say this, if I were to offer you a coffee

[5:00]
L: Go on.
J: I could say: “You’re for coffee?”.
L: Like “You’re for coffee?” as a question like “You’re for coffee?”, but also sounds like a rude word.
J: It sounds a little bit like a…
L: “You’re for coffee?”, “You fuck off-y?”.
J: Okay, okay. I think they get it. Sorry about that.
L: Anyway, so you haven’t really even listened to the episodes that you’re in, have you? Don’t tell me to fuck off at this point.
(laugh)
J: Enough swearing. I think we should delete that bit.
L: Let’s get down to business and talk about Christmas, shall we? But we’re both… before we do that, we both suffering from ever so slight colds.
J: That’s why we sound sort of slightly bunged up. There is a phrase for you.
L: Bunged up. I’ll write this down. I must write down…
J: So write down call cold, bunged up.
L: Urine.
J: No, not that one.
L: I should write it down. Call cold, bunged up.
J: Bunged up, that’s just means blocked up nose.
L: You’re for coffee.
J: We’re not going to do that one.
L: I don’t know, I might write it down anyway. Urine. You’re in.
J: Things not to say in a business meeting for instance. You don’t lean over to the managing director and say “You fuck off-y?”. That would be a social faux pas, which is French.
L: A faux pas. That is. Faux pas is a French word.
J: And some English phrases are just literally a French phrase which we quite like a sound of. It’s been picked up over the years and accepted as English phrases, for instance: cliche, faux pas.
L: Yeah, a cul-de-sac.
J: Yeah.
L: It’s true.
J: Cul-de-sac…
L: Wait, wait, wait. What is first of all… What is a faux pas? What is a cliche? And what is a cul-de-sac? What’s a faux pas? Well it’s a French word.
J: Fake. “Faux” means “fake”, doesn’t it?
L: Maybe. I don’t know what the original…
J: I don’t know what the literal thing means, we’re very embarrassing. If you know, write in the comment underneath.
L: I’m sure. I’ve got lots of listeners who speak French, who can tell us exactly what “faux pas” means in French, but in English…
J: It’s just means a minor mistake.
L: It’s a social mistake.
J: A social mistake, yeah.
L: So for example, if you go to a business meeting and you…
J: …are wearing trainers.
L: …and you’re wearing sport shoes, trainers, sneakers, pumps, that kind of thing, to a business meeting, where you should be dressed in formal way. That would be a faux pas, like a social mistake. Okay. Next one was a cliche, another French word.
J: It’s because that we don’t have a literal translation for that in English, so we use the French, which means a cliche. A kind of… it’s very hard to explain.
L: Welcome to my job.
J: It’s very hard to explain without using the French.
L: I think the cliche is something which has happened many, many, many times and to the point which it’s now become really sort of predictable and not even necessarily true.
J: Slightly embarrassingly obvious, maybe.
L: Obvious, predictable. It’s been repeated many times.
J: So for instance a cliche would be an English bloke swigging lager with an England top on watching the football.
L: So that’s a cultural cliche.
J: A cultural cliche.
L: Which is very similar to a stereotype.
J: It is, that’s the word I was looking for. It’s similar to a stereotype, but it doesn’t just have to fit a person. It could fit a style or…
L: Usually stereotypes describe a type of person, don’t they? Like the German stereotype, the American stereotype, French stereotype.
J: And all the best stereotypes have an element of truth in them as well, obviously.
L: Like the English stereotype. There’s two English stereotypes for me. One is that we are very posh, stuck up, kind of gentlemen…
J: Drinking tea, wearing bowler hats.
L: And being very posh and going “Oh, my dear… my good man…” that kind of thing, which you know the Americans love that kind of English stereotype. But the other stereotype is…
J: It’s a football hooligan. Somebody goes (sound of hooligans).
L: Right? I think actually most English people have both.
J: A bit of both.
L: Yeah. They can be very reserved and polite and “Oh sorry”, but on the other hand they can… if they have a few drinks…
J: They can be quite ignorant and stupid.
L: They become ignorant and stupid.
J: And I include myself in that, unfortunately.
L: I think, you’re more hooligan than gentleman. I am maybe more gentleman than hooligan, but it depends…
J: So you like to think.
L: I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s true. It depends. Sometimes you’re more gentlemanly than I am and sometimes…
J: I don’t watch football, I want to point that out, I don’t follow a team. I never drink lager.
L: How many time have you had a fight in your life? Physical, a physical fight.
J: A few, but they were really asking for it.

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55. Mini Podcasts Collection 1


Right-click here to download this episode.
My first 7 mini podcasts in one full length episode. Idioms with ‘about’, politics, how to make a perfect cup of tea, a comedy song about badgers and some sentence stress and intonation practice.

You can find my Mini Podcast page on Audioboo by clicking here.

Mini-Podcasts – Overview
There are 7 mini podcasts in this episode:

1. Introduction (losing my voice)
I talk about the new mini mobile podcasts and what to expect in the future.

2. Idioms with ‘about’
I teach you some common idioms and expressions using the word ‘about’

3. Government Cuts
At the moment in the UK the government is making large cuts to public spending. What will be the effect of those cuts on the funding of BBC Learning English? Are we going to lose BBC Learning English? This is an example of how we are living in an increasingly connected society where economic conditions in one country immediately effect people in other countries.

4. How to make the perfect cup of tea
I talk to my colleague Richard McNeff about making the perfect cup of tea. Listen closely for language for ‘how to describe a process’ – which is exactly the kind of thing you need to do in an IELTS writing exam.

5. Computer Games
Are games an art form like movies and television? What about the characters, the stories and the graphics?

6. New Guitar
I’ve got a new guitar and I’d like to play you a song. It’s a comedy song – remember that – it is supposed to be funny! So, look for the jokes in the lyrics of the song. The lyrics are printed below:

Bill Bailey – Hats Off To The Zebras (Tribute to Brian Adams)

The horse is a noble beast
From the mustangs of the west
To the stallions of the east
But the horse has a distant cousin
It lives I-do-not-know-where
But it’s message of racial harmony is one that we all can share

Hats off to the zebras
They are black and white
But they don’t fight
‘Cos they’re not very good at it

In a world of confusion
We all need a sign
If only we could live side by side
Like the stripes down a zebras spine

Hats of to the zebras, yeah

The humble badger
Takes a sip of morning dew
He’s totally colourblind
So he can’t judge you

But the badger is a dreamer
The badger has a plan
He knows that his destiny
Is to help his fellow man

Hats off to the badger
He is black and white
But he doesn’t fight
Except for mating rights and territory

Black man and a white man
Both they need to shave
United by the badger brush
He’s helping from beyond the grave

Hats off to the badger
What about the tapeer
Half zebra half pig
Imagine the stig-ma
But the tapeer stands proud
Hats off to the tapeer

Badgers and zebras
Skunks, oh yeah
Little ring-tailed leemurs
Living together in harmony

And if the killer whales can do it, why can’t we?
Tell me why can’t we?

It’s a song about how we can use the examples of black and white animals to learn to live together in racial harmony.

For the the funniest lines are “because they’re not very good at it…” and “except for mating rights and territory”

7. Sentence Stress / Intonation / Get Candy!
In this one I demonstrate the importance of sentence stress and intonation in emphatic speech. Listen to the same text read twice. First time I read with flat intonation. It sounds dull and meaningless. Second time I add emphasis, stress and intonation – it sounds more passionate and meaningful.

Here’s the text below. You should practise listening to it, marking where I pause and emphasize. Then say the text and try to copy the way I do it. Listen to the previous podcast about halloween to head a real comedian reading the text.

So the first time you hear the concept of halloween, when you’re a kid. Do you remember the first time you even heard about it? It’s like, your brain can’t even… “what is this? who’s giving out candy? Someone’s giving out candy? who is giving out this candy? Everyone we know is just giving out candy?? I gotta be a part of this, take me with you, I want to do it, I’ll do anything that they want! I can wear that. I’ll wear anything I have to wear. I’ll do anything I have to do. I will get the candy from these fools, that are so stupidly giving it away!”