On Leading by Example

Teachers, like writers, should show not tell (as much as possible).

As a writing teacher, it is imperative that I set an example as a writer.

My first gig outside of the university newspaper was Pennyblackmusic.co.uk — an independent online music magazine and shop that has outlasted countless best-selling, robustly funded publications.

Though not continuously, I’ve written for Pennyblackmusic for more than 20 years. In slow, desultory fashion it’s become a modest but valued body of work, and a chance to keep my journo skills sharp.

One of the regular features is called ‘Ten Songs That Made Me Love…’

Here are my contributions to the long-running series:

Echo & The Bunnymen

“Some bands are linked to an event or time in life; others, to a person. Echo & The Bunnymen entered my consciousness when I was about eight, via an album cover pinned to my brother’s bedroom wall. ‘Echo & the Bunnymen’, their eponymous 1987 album – was to the right of U2’s ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ and above Depeche Mode’s ‘Some Great Reward’. In grainy black-and-white, Ian McCulloch’s inkwell-explosion hair, eyes downcast beneath thick brows, gave a general impression of dark wool and wind-chill. Yet the music encoded in that vinyl dazzled. It made sense that my brother, the coolest person I knew, bought an overcoat and grew his hair. Who wouldn’t want to be them?

My brother moved out when I was 12; for the next few years we saw little of each other. I bought Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’. Possibly in despair, he compiled CDs for me. Those songs – Echo, New Order, Depeche Mode – were the basis for a new relationship. More than siblings, we became musical co-conspirators. These 10 songs, only a sliver of Echo’s expansive oeuvre, encode a deep friendship. Apart from their personal significance their freshness, verve and originality make a case that Echo were the seminal New Wave band. Let’s run with those dancing horses.”

Read the full article

Patti Smith

The first time I saw Patti Smith it was like seeing a flesh-and-blood human after a lifetime among holograms. In a world where everyone is obsessed with image Patti is always, ever and gloriously who she is. Poet, rebel, musician, mother, artist, crusader, writer, warrior, deity of rock’n’roll and inventor of herself, Patti never wanted to be anyone else, never pandered, never tried to please.

Her music reaches deep places because it is born from an authentic self, and that’s why it will last.

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Pulp

“It’s not chocolate boxes and roses/ It’s something darker/ Like a small animal that only comes out at night”. Jarvis Cocker’s memorable assessment of the titular emotion in ‘F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E’ (surely one of the Top 10 most awkwardly titled songs pop history) is a perfect epithet for the bands’ oeuvre.

The magic of Pulp is the mingling of sharp, danceable guitar pop with lyrics that veer from cynical to downright sinister. Their most radio-friendly hits are rife with violence (‘Joyriders’ “Mister, we just want your car/ ‘Cos we’re taking a girl to the reservoir”) and voyeurism (“I wanted to see as well as hear and so I hid inside her wardrobe,” in ‘Babies’). Love songs in Pulp world include lyrics like: “You are the last drink I should have ever drunk/ You are the body hidden in the trunk” (‘Like a Friend’).

Studying the arc of their career, it’s clear ‘Different Class’s’ arrival in Cool Britannia was coincidence; the subsequent lumping of Pulp with Britpop a music journalists’ convenience. Pulp never shared Blur’s mockney smuggery nor Oasis’ apolitical performance of working classness. Pulp was on a different trajectory: one that began in Sheffield in 1978, contained more than a decade of obscurity, and survived Britpop notoriety to deliver an acerbic welcome to the new millennium.

Its curve is marked by a rare, unflinching insight into the human psyche. Pulp takes love as a subject but, unlike most pop confectioners, doesn’t sugar-coat it. Cocker sees love as a slippery amalgam of baser needs: status, self-worth, revenge, amusement, actualisation, to see the darkest parts of ourselves reflected in another. Attraction doesn’t lead through flower-dappled fields at sunset but down gnarled alleys stale with fag smoke, booze and latent violence.

Rarer still, Cocker understands that society is an echo chamber of our dark hearts: it isn’t just individuals who behave in warped, self-defeating ways, but our whole culture.

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Photo by Chris Bair on Unsplash

Memphis Soul

Ibiza, October 2016: What was left of my library was stacked on a slat-wood shelf awaiting collection; the clothes worth taking were crammed into a scuffed purple nylon suitcase; my car was one signature short of belonging to my ex-boyfriend, who was also adopting my cat.

In a few days I would embark for Memphis, Tennessee, a city I best knew as home of Sun Records. To pass time, I was reading ‘Respect Yourself’ (a loan from my Memphis-based boyfriend).

Robert Gordon’s meticulous account of the rise/fall/slip/slide of Stax Records was the history of an alien land and culture. ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay’ rang a bell, maybe ‘Shaft’, but my knowledge of Memphis soul ended there. Embarrassment at this ignorance was a welcome distraction from more immediate anxieties.

Those anxieties faded but the embarrassment clings; as a born-and-raised Yankee, a music journalist no less, it is shaming to have been oblivious to one of the richest seams of my country’s musical culture. Shaming because – as ‘Respect Yourself’ and history report – it is no accident that Black musicians have been, and remain, ghettoised, denigrated, alienated.

That’s not why anyone should listen to Memphis soul though; not to pay tribute or broaden horizons. Listen to be immersed in music that grabs your gut and nether-parts. Listen to the sound of something at stake. Listen because, as the following 10 songs prove, it’ll turn you on and take you higher.

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As an educator, how do you lead by example? Share in the comments or Tweet @CilaWarncke

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Why the New Website?

IMG_20140215_194542911For reasons known only to the gods of the internet my trusty site cilawarncke.com disappeared. The former digital diary of my professional accomplishments is now white space. It’s a 21st century Ozymandias thing.

Rather than snuffle over spilt milk or, indeed, try to grasp the whims of the www I decided to start afresh. New year, blank slate etc. Thankfully there is minimal competition for domain names including Warncke.

I’ll be piecing this site together gradually, highlighting the various things I write and do, plus posting the odd blog.

Thanks for stopping by. If you need some words written, or just want to chew the fat, email cilawarncke@gmail.com.