The Jazz Butcher: Daycare Nation
Whoever thought of this cue was probably anticipating songs that evoke magnificent scenerylike beaches at sunset, and they reckoned without my painfully literal imagination. (I once did a word-association test, as a preliminary to being a subject in some other psychological experiment. They said ‘Doctor’. An image of a doctor in a white lab coat flashed into my mind’s eye; I hesitated, and responded with ‘Doctor.’)
‘Daycare Nation’ makes mention of Royal Oak Station, in west central London. I can’t listen to it without thinking of Royal Oak Station, though beyond that, it also evokes the backs of houses that you see from the train as it slows down coming into Paddington. It’s another song from Cult of the Basement, but as there’s no YouTube version of the album recording, here’s Pat performing it at the 12-Bar in 2007:
On the album it fades in over the noise of underground trains; the bass line comes in with the mechanical simplicity of a musical box or a nursery rhyme, and the saxophone breathes gently and seductively. It’s a night-time song. We’re potentially in classic singer-songwriter territory (bedsits, eccentrics, and a patronising display of pity), but ‘Daycare Nation’ is impersonal and non-narrative, and that takes it somewhere different.
You’re living in your own home
You’re living in your own world
You’re living in a waking dream
You’re living in the best of all possible worlds
The smell of contagion
In the hall of your apartment
And a soft little scratching
On the wall of the room next to yours
The way the second stanza undercuts the first is brilliant; there’s nothing in the music to signal the difference. The ‘soft little scratching’ lands perfectly between being specific and leaving us to imagine what might be living next door, or in the wall cavity. The thousands of ‘Mr Odds’ cross references another song on the album, more upbeat and comical: when there was just one Mr Odd he might be a figure of fun (though also of pathos); when multiplied, the pathos comes to the fore.
They’re not real
They’re there by accident
They’re not real
It’s just an accident of birth
The closing lines are the most troubling: the song has made it quite clear that they are real, living in a specific place and time; these lines register either what the government would have you believe (this was the era of ‘care in the community’), or they register the appalled response of someone who can’t quite take in the magnitude of it. What’s great about this song is the way that it records direct acquaintance with dilapidated bedsit-land (smells, sounds) and at the same time the perspective from far off, the perspective of the intercity commuter coming into Paddington and wondering about all the lives going on behind all those windows.
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And here’s an acoustic rendition of ‘Mr Odd’, with an anecdote about the real-life antecedent for him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDADLhmXf30