In the Head of John Peel

And in the head of Modal Roberts. And in my head. That’s where you’re going. But could that be any weirder than the trip In the Head of John Peel just sent me on? I think not.

When people submit to Sirenstories I listen to their songs and read the notes/lyrics they leave for me. Or not. Some artists don’t seem to understand that I want to write about them, and they leave me nothing but the tune.

But whether or not they leave me a message or few autobiographical facts or links or lyrics I often go poking around online to learn more about them.

In the case of In the Head of John Peel it wasn’t artist Modal Roberts I wanted to learn more about, but the subject of his song, John Peel.

I’m not saying that Modal Roberts doesn’t interest me, because he does. See?

The alternative blues sound of In the Head of John Peel made me think immediately of guitar god singer songwriter Chris Whitley. There’s a certain rawness, something visceral that the two artists share and In the Head of John Peel definitely has that Delta blues flavor that Chris’ music has.

That may be where the similarities end. The more I listened to In the Head of John Peel the more hilarious I found the song, it’s much funnier than any song Chris wrote, any song that I know of at least. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

But okay. The trip I took. I listened to In the Head of John Peel twice and I was like, huh? I’d heard of John Peel but as a sort of DJ legend, I didn’t really know any details about him, so I Googled him.

There’s a ton out there about John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, (August 30th, 1939 – October 25th, 2004), known professionally as John Peel. Wikipedia even has a sample of what they call his “seismographic handwriting style”.

Of the myriad of bizarre facts Wikipedia had to offer about the English disc jockey, radio presenter and journalist who broadcasted regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004, I thought the strangest was that following Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, he passed himself off as a reporter for the Liverpool Echo in order to attend the arraignment of Lee Harvey Oswald and he and a friend can be seen in the footage of the November 22/23 midnight press conference at Dallas Police Department when Lee Harvey Oswald was paraded before the media. He later phoned in the story to the Liverpool Echo.

John Peel showcased new acts that later achieved great fame on his show, and he was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio. He was widely known for promoting the music of  various styles, including pop, reggae, indie rock, alternative rock, punk, hardcore punk, grindcore, death metal, British hip hop, and dance music.

Here’s the thing:

His favourite single is widely known to have been the 1978 song Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. In an interview in 2001, he stated “There’s nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it.”

But Modal Roberts doesn’t really believe John Peel, and that is what In the Head of John Peel is about.

Did John Peel really dig the tune as much as he said he did?

The opening guitar chords of Teenage Kicks remind me of Blondie’s One Way or Another which was released the same year. You’ve probably heard Teenage Kicks, Wait—no? Well here you go. It was almost impossible to decide which version of the song to post, but in the end I fell for this one:

Are teenage dreams so hard to beat
Every time she walks down the street
Another girl in the neighbourhood
Wish she was mine, she looks so good

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

I’m gonna call her on the telephone
Have her over ’cause I’m all alone
I need excitement oh I need it bad
And it’s the best, I’ve ever had

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

So. Is this the perfect song?

It was almost as difficult to decide which picture of Modal Roberts I should post. Click on the pic above and you’ll wind up at his website where you can check out some other photos of him. Or maybe if you’re lucky you’ll catch him at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Modal is performing at Paradise in the Vault August 6th—14th.

I’d love to see Modal Roberts live, but until I do he will be forever linked in my mind with John Peel and The Undertones, Chris Whitley and maybe even JFK. The fact that In the Head of John Peel made me think even for a minute of Chris Whitley,  whose music I hold above all others, is high praise.

And yes Modal, I did follow the links down the rabbit hole and ended up at the John Peel narrated JFK video. I’m pretty sure that will make you laugh.

3 responses to “In the Head of John Peel

  1. Thanks for that Mimi , I love the idea of you having gone on a head trip from listening to this song. That’s what I’m looking to do with a lot of my stuff, stimulate questioning of things, initiate deep pondering , that kind of thang.

    I’d hate anyone to think there was any disrepect to John Peel intended by my song, that’s not what’s meant at all. He was a huge figure in my life, first as a guide to me in my early teenage when I started getting serious about music. And later when I’d become a musician, having the honour of him playing my band’s records and, most exciting of all, going to the BBC’s Maida Vale studios to record sessions for his show. Never met him but if I had, I would have made sure to thank him for all he’d given me.

    The thing with having Teenage Kicks as his fave record is something that’s crossed my mind from time to time as being kinda strange, it just doesn’t seem to have enough about it for it to have that status. So my song is about how I’ll never solve that puzzle because none of us can see into the inner mind of another even if Peels was still among us. But most of all, it’s about how we can feel obliged to meet people’s expectations of us, all the time feeling quite different inside. If it’s critical of anything it’s of our tendency to view others in a simplistic way and then be intolerant of them for not being exactly as we imagine them. That’s the kind of attitude that leads to people to feel that all costs they must keep up appearances. I have no idea if this applied to John Peel and his championing of Teenage Kicks but he seemed to me to be a complex person who sometimes perhaps sought clarity through portraying himself as a simple man with simple tastes. I felt that being a public figure wasn’t always easy for him and might have led led him into comments that were more to do with managing that unease than with providing a glimpse of the inner man. Far from dissing Peel I hope this song is showing him compassion.

    I’m glad you found it funny, it’s meant to be funny. I think we’re often very funny us humans in our muddling through life, something quite absurd about it all really.

    Modal R

  2. Pingback: Lament | Singers + Songs = Sirenstories

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