Pete Blum’s Open Letter to BBT

by Pete Blum

Dear BBT,

BBT EE2It feels as though it wants to be a “love letter” of a sort.  But it isn’t really there yet.  It’s not intensely passionate; it’s not yet full of those deep and personal codes that arise from having spent time as lovers or as the closest of friends.  It’s more like a very early and tentative venture, saying that I’ve been seeing and hearing you, I’ve been watching you and feeling the growth of some kind of friendship, but I wonder if it is (or could be) more.  I’m afraid, too.  Afraid of how you might respond, or even more afraid that you will not respond.  Afraid that if any blood flows into my words, you might miss it and find flattery alone, perhaps sprinkled with a spur here, a barb there, if that’s how you take some of it.  Do I dare ask for your patience when you don’t really know me?

Anyway, this is mainly about our third time “alone together,” as I truly tested that “together”:  It seems to have “tested positive” as the medical folk say.  I can’t refrain from this reaching out, from this speaking (though with a computer keyboard that may not be quite as clumsy as a voice).  It may be selfish on my part.  But isn’t it true that everything may be such, for all of us?

The Underfall Yard was where we first met, right after our mutual friend BB (no T) pointed you out to me with undisguised awe.  I heard, I believe, that at which his awe was aimed, or that which called to it.  Then the first installment of English Electric seemed to confirm it, in concert with some reaching back to earlier efforts.  You seemed so familiar, but also to move so easily and sensually beyond the familiar.  I was brought to an emotional dead halt by “A Boy in Darkness.”  I must confess, it had my attention locked in its cold embrace for days, haunting every other element of my everydayness.  I wrote a brief note about that before.

And now English Electric Part Two.  I thought it might just be a casual and friendly listening, but you allowed it a bit early, and it turns out that it feels like one of those ” is this just a meeting, is it a ‘date,’ or what?” kind of events.  I must now tell you some of the things that seem to be you, and that entice me, that tell me I should wholly trust you, that I should open to you.  I can’t keep it from coming off like a mere listing, like items that can be numbered, and I’m a bit unsure why this feels frustratingly wrong.

It’s not as though you are wholly unique, but who or what is?  Spawton, announced in the notes as “curator,” has all along brought with him the uncanny feel of earlier Genesis, the symphonic sensibilities of Yes, and the echoes of those influences can be as strong here as before.  But “derivative,” an abominably tired word at any rate, never seems to be applicable here.  It may be partly the difference between a very idiographic inscription that might have characterized youthful ears and heart on the one hand, and on the other hand a more mature listening, more like a slow and careful reading, line-by-line (in my own case, listening post-Mahler).  But no, I suspect (at least for now) that it is something more.

Listening to music can feel as though one is a hamster, crawling along in one of those plastic tubes, following the curves and lines set up for the amusement of the owner.  I am no hamster when I am with you.  And you are no owner.  (But allow that echo that intrudes, saying “…lonely heart.”)

Instrumentation and vocal inflection flaunt the most audacious juxtapositions, more than ever ignoring the politic boundaries between “high” and “popular.”   The touches by Longdon and Gregory sparkle and shine, especially on the delightful “Leopards.”  Throughout your recent recordings, both of them SO belong here, as if this were the ground for which their own roots have taken shape before.  Manners’ piano reminds me of the highest textural flights of those amazing ECM albums of the seventies; it closes EE2 with a deep climactic sigh, leading into a warm, hushed afterglow.  And of course, if you’ve heard me talking lately in these circles, you know that NdV’s drumming has an aesthetic hook in me that hurts, but only in the best ways.

Spawton bass
Photo by and courtesy of Willem Klopper.

The lyrics on EE2 float ready for engaged hearing, pronouns hovering between determinacy and indeterminacy of reference, allowing themselves to be genuinely taken up by the listener, but not willy-nilly, not without direction.  Big Big Train is, if I may put it thus, a train of thought.  Here especially one can see that there is a subtle but discernible shape, or basic configuration (Gestalt?) that is BBT, carefully and lovingly honed over time by Spawton and Poole, atop which the current lineup is arguably its finest.

Are there hesitations?  No, that’s not the word.  Concerns?  That’s not exactly right either.  Holes.  It’s as if some sort of holes open up here and there.  But ‘holes’ also won’t quite do.  I think what I’m getting at is that there are traces.  Getting to know an Other, some recent philosophers have emphasized how it is a trace that we find, as opposed to a presence, a substance.  There is no thing, yet there is a site, as if occupied until only a moment ago, by something which was—and is—itself not a thing.   What I’ve really been effusing about are traces, and they can be taken as absences.  They make the effusiveness problematic in its reference (like those lyrical pronouns).  I can’t shake the continuities (Genesis, Yes, bits of XTC, Spock’s Beard, and others) that make the fire I’m finding here sizzle in an uncomfortably ominous way, like live embers sizzle under a splash of water.  Since I’m neither musician nor technician myself, I worry that my outreach here suffers from that which always afflicts love of any kind, for spouse, for friend, for family, etc.  The shimmer of uniqueness/singularity can act like a mirage in a relational desert (with ontological ambiguities haunting that word, ‘mirage,’ which a reader may further explore by catching a separate searching wave on the web).

I worry that my listening here is…  What?

Ah, the word that academics often use is ‘subjective.’

But I am willing to risk this, and thus will still send this missive, hoping for the best.  I hope that it means as much to you as the meaning you’ve given so far to me.  I hope that others who read will be taken enough with my effusions to test them, and to test them softly, carefully, attentively, and openly.

Do come over to my neighborhood sometime soon to play, if you can.

Shyly but warmly yours,


2 thoughts on “Pete Blum’s Open Letter to BBT

  1. Pingback: Congratulations to Big Big Train | Progarchy

  2. Pingback: GrimspoundPaLooza: Big Big Train | Progarchy


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s