Michael Portillo or the banyan tree…

It is an everyday scene perhaps in a library near you. The camera pans from the sign demanding SILENCE across a small but busy library, suddenly, bursting through the large imposing wooden doors walks a man in a long black coat carrying an unfeasibly large armful of books which he takes to the girl behind the library desk whose over-large glasses fail completely to disguise the fact that she is very attractive.

The librarian treats our handsome borrower with studied indifference even as he starts singing to her. Nearby a rabbi takes a seat in the library, a chimpanzee sitting nearby puts his finger to his mouth asking for quiet and as the singer realises that the girl is unimpressed by his attentions he turns to the card catalogue and as he opens the drawer the cards fly away. The girl is left to deal with the next customer who is playing his keyboard in front of her with a stony face whilst the chimp covers his face. As the singer continues to get in the way of the librarian who remains studiedly uninterested, a string trio play on a convenient nearby balcony as the camera pulls back to reveal, for no obvious reason, a reader in a gas mask. In a final desperate attempt to gain some traction with the librarian the singer pulls a fake gun that unfurls the word BANG and finally tired of all this nonsense she pulls and twists his nose in a very painful and decidedly unplayful manner.

So perhaps not a day in a library near you after all then, and not just because you haven’t got one any more. Nor is it the sort of tortured nightmare suffered by Directors of Libraries stressing about the draconian budget cuts they have to make, my dreams were much worse than that. It is though, clearly,  no ordinary library[1]  after all how many libraries have you been in where someone is singing at the top of their voice, a keyboard player is hammering out a tune and a string trio is playing for all their worth and it’s only the chimpanzee that asks them to be quiet.

This can of course only be a promotional video for a pop song in this case for Head over Heels the 1985 hit single by Tears for Fears who were at the time about as hot it got in pop music but with no known previous convictions for disrupting libraries. This was also in the early days of pop videos when weird was the standard. And this was definitely weird particularly as the song appears to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with libraries, or chimpanzees or indeed rabbis or gasmasks for that matter.  It is as far as I know the only pop video that features a library which is why it has made it into the blog but as we saw in the previous post libraries do feature more than you might think in music and especially in pop music.

Newcastle Lit & Phil Library. Much loved by Neil Tennant of The Pet Shop Boys

Neil Tennant, one half of the semi legendary Pet Shop Boys has publicly professed his membership and love of Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society Library and Morrissey the singer and former front man of The Smiths claims perhaps not entirely seriously that he that he was born in Manchester Central Library, (“probably in the crime section”) where his mother was a librarian are some of the improbable links between music and libraries.

Libraries can make it into pop and rock songs of some stellar performers, but having started at the top with some pretty big stars whom we will return to in future blogs we now need to spend a little time exploring the less well known pop and rock music stars who have been careless enough to use libraries as a subject for their songs and who lurk in the shadowy undergrowth of the internet only coming to light when someone is stupid enough to disturb their hard earned and well deserved obscurity.  I have included many links in case you want to make up your own minds but frankly I wouldn’t bother and I hope you will be appropriately grateful that I have listened to these so that you don’t have to.

Cursor Miner otherwise Robert Tubb is an underground electronica producer and one reviewer describes his lyrics as “twisted, like if Lewis Carroll wrote lyrics for Gary Numan.” Well here is a sample and you can make up your own mind if they are twisted and fantastic and in the spirit of Lewis Carroll or if they have just nicked some lyrics from the cutting room floor at Sesame Street. These are some of the lyrics from his song The Library

Kids there’s a really cool place you can be

Its a lot of fun now you will see

You’ll learn a lot about the world that way

Living in the Public Library

The Library the Library

It’s a place where books are free

The Library the Library

It’s a lot better than watching TV”

Bearing in mind that this was I assume aimed like his other stuff at an adult audience it sounded like one of the early rejects from a library marketing project set for 16 year olds. It has a cartoon video too which you can find on YouTube and it is a hypnotically annoying earworm of a song that is catchy for the first two or three listens but leaves you pondering places to shove his synthesiser long before the end of the third hearing. It is memorable, though, for the lines that manage to squeeze in not only plate tectonics and embroidery but also bizarrely Michael Portillo,

“You’ll always find something you’re interested in

Plate tectonics or embroidery

Michael Portillo or the banyan tree

perhaps less for the lines

The library, the Library it’s a place where drugs are free

and not at all for a video in which the cartoon car bringing kids back from the library drives off a cartoon cliff only for the driver to eject to safety and leave the kids in the car presumably plunging to cartoon oblivion. Remember kids don’t let your parents do this at home.

Amongst the other remaining songs referencing libraries and librarians many are feature them fleetingly brief and even more for no discernible reason that we won’t waste a lot of time on them. But here goes with a whistle stop tour through songs “inspired” by libraries and librarians that were perhaps left to rest in peace deep in the internet underworld.

Take Cyaneed for example. I have no idea why “a dead hot young super group consists of four girls from the far north of Norway who play a sort of catchy punk rock” have titled one of their albums “I rule this Library tonight.” I suppose I could listen to all the tracks, in the original Norwegian and find out the answer, but then I could also get someone to jump on my head until I scream for mercy! A band who briefly received good reviews in the music press was known curiously as Mr Hudson and the Library. Mr Hudson went on to greater things with Kanye West and the like but pointedly dropped The Library; I guess if Kanye wanted a library he just go out and buy one.

Singer/songwriter Anthony Rochester has an album, Music for Librarians for no immediately obvious reason that I can tell even after listening to a few tracks and there is a band called The Public Library one of whose albums includes a song called “The Hospital Library” where someone is for some reason is

“Working on the records of broken hearts and bones,

Like the books on all the sad things that you know

and headlining act Athlete have a track called “In the Library” As an audio experience it’s all right I guess until you try to unpack the lyrics which feature this isolated reference to libraries

“Swimming in a library
we’re not going anywhere.

Then again obscure lyrics never deterred any of us millions of Bob Dylan fans did it?

There is a song called believe it or not Librarians Rule the World but its potentially powerful impact is rather spoiled by the fact that it is from a band called Songs to Wear Pants To and is from an album that includes other titles such as “I am slightly awesome”, “I love to eat apples and bananas” and “Car Noise Waltz of the Egg Slicer”… oh and the track only lasts 37 seconds so not much of an empire to rule then. More substantial is singer songwriter Jonathon Rundman’s Librarian, from what is considered apparently, his best album, “Public Library” but whilst it is enormously gratifying to find people inspired to write songs about librarians (eat your heart out accountants and lawyers) the song does start by offering a portrait that does little to dispel the anorak image

 I’m a librarian, I’m a librarian
and I like it quiet so the pages can be heard

But fair play to him for someone who as far as I can tell has no brief to do a marketing job on librarians he does a considerably better job that any of those who are paid a shed load of money for doing it and actually the album is not that bad either

“I bring order out of chaos, I shine light into the dark
because power comes from knowledge just like fire from a spark
and like Gutenberg and Luther with press and pen in hand
I take the message to the masses in a form they understand

We should also expect something at least as flattering from Rob Lopresti because according to his website as well as being a songwriter and a blogger he was also a Reference Librarian at Washington State University, indeed the eponymous “Reference Librarian” from one of his albums. What we get is a very arch and mildly diverting inversion of that male fantasy we have seem before of the girl behind the library desk in which he is happy to let all of those pretty young students hoping to hit on him just what they can really get from the guy behind the desk.

“You’ve got a big term paper due

You better start it soon

‘Cause you just figured out its due tomorrow afternoon

You need two dozen sources on the pygmy crocodile

Let me at the keyboard, kid, and watch a master’s style

He knows that he doesn’t need to slowly take off his glasses and let down his golden locks or even stroke his beard with a sultry look in his eyes to reveal the siren underneath, he has a far more powerful aphrodisiac to offer his captive young audience. Who says librarians can’t do irony?

Piano Magic have a curious little number called “I am the Sub Librarian“ which is such an eerily accurate stereotype of some librarians I might have known in a distant era that the song must have come from somewhere deep in the band’s previous life as a librarian back in the 1970’s.

“A steady diet of Brautigan,

‘Tapestry’ on the Walkman”

And to round of this whistle stop tour of passing references to libraries, first “February Library” from Limited Expresses sounds just like you would expect a track to sound by a band billed as “a Japanese experimental punk trio” famed for their frenetic live performances. It sounded like chipmunks on speed and I have no idea what it has to do with libraries given my lack of fluency in both Japanese and double-time chipmunk. I am sure that the experimental punk fans on Okinawa got every word but I am afraid it was completely lost on me and finally in this post I also discovered there is an electronics duo called Libraries from Wilmington, North Carolina about which I know very little but they have one album out called simply the Wilmington Bootlegs. They are on Facebook and Bandcamp ( an open marketplace for musicians) but I am none the wiser and having sampled a few seconds of their music actually that’s fine.

[1] In fact the video was filmed in a real library, at the Emmanuel College Library in Toronto, Canada



1 Comment

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One response to “Michael Portillo or the banyan tree…


    A fabulous read. Thank you x


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