|Friday, June 3rd, 2011|
10:04 am - Lambs to the Slaughter
Last week was unrelenting, so much so that didn’t end until Wednesday. In addition to my usual duties – none of which you would care for me to enumerate – I had to take part in seven plays in six days. This is the very reason that I gave up GSCE Drama; that and the momentary misstep that I should probably train to become a doctor.|
The first was a run of The Rules of the Game , a community theatre piece, by Partisan Productions, about ‘secret’ sectarianism. Ms. McGreevy, who you might remember from my teenage years, and myself were responsible for the music: a sort of Weillesque plod through the scenery. I found myself on accordion, an instrument that I can barely brace across my chest, let alone play, which is, of course, the reason I gave up GCSE Music; that and the momentary misstep that I should probably train to become a doctor.
I was lumbered too with accordion responsibilities in Wireless Mystery Theatre’s successful production of Mercury Theatre’s War of the Worlds . All of which makes me regret buying the thing from that poor, dying woman that sold it me. I don’t see that my £10 would have been much help at all.
The worst and most troubling event of last week, though, was Wireless Mystery Theatre’s other endeavour, which was something of a departure into reputable theatre. The company was invited, nay strongly recommended, to perform Carlo Gebler’s Charles & Mary, in Mr. Torrans’s lovely No Alibis bookstore. The radio play was originally broadcast in January of this year and it was hoped we would recreate it for the launch of Mr. Gebler’s new book. Which we did, down to the tinny, distant quality of listening to the original through a transistor radio.
Now, some will suggest that it is because Ms. Clarke, the producer of WMT, is also my Beloved that I was cast as the male lead, Charles Lamb. This couldn’t be further from the truth; the truth is that, because Ms. Clarke is also my Beloved, I couldn’t get out of playing Charles Lamb, however much I begged, as she already has too much information against me. Thankfully, I never have to act again, unless I fall on hard times.
Mr. Gebler’s play is a marvellous piece of work though. It tells the true tale of Charles and Mary Lamb, the authors of the early-19th Century children’s primer, Tales From Shakespeare . Also, incidentally, he was an alcoholic and she was a paranoid schizophrenic who killed their mother. It is easier, I think, to play people without issues or extenuating circumstances, but there is probably a reason why such ideal characters are seldom written. If the intense Ms. Lamb were only plain, there would be no story, and the excellent Ms. Bronagh McCrudden would not have received such plaudits as “capital,” “excellent,” and “a Tour de France.” The last didn’t seem to make much sense.
What affected both the Lambs is dreadfully complex: they were poor, but educated; their mother was overbearing; Mary, the elder, raised Charles, and their relationship was completely co-dependent as a result. Yet, Mr. Gebler, who gave an engaging mini-lecture at the end, was both warm and humane in discussing them and Ms. Lamb’s one fierce and conclusive act: although people may do terrible things, they are not defined by those terrible things. Or, at least, most are defined by their attempts to atone or overcome. This comes from his many years of working with prisoners in Maghaberry and his views on rehabilitation, recidivism, and mental illness were refreshing.
Of course, the other thing that knocked the Lambs off-kilter was books and surrounded by them in No Alibis, one can understand why. The childhood of the Lambs was spent reading romances and fantasy and the Shakespeare that would make their names and lead to their downfall. They could not translate the ideals of fairytales into real-life behaviour. I spent far too much of the performance eying up the copy of Trois par Georges Perec that I had been reading during sound check, unable to translate its ideal French into real-life English. This is, of course, why I gave up GCSE French.
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|Sunday, April 17th, 2011|
4:45 pm - Bohemian Footnotes #3 - The Boho Dance
Down in the cellar in the Boho zone
I went looking for some sweet inspiration, oh well
Just another hard-time band
With Negro affectations1.
I was a hopeful in rooms like this
When I was working cheap
It's an old romance-the Boho dance
It hasn't gone to sleep
But even on the scuffle
The cleaner's press was in my jeans
And any eye for detail
Caught a little lace along the seams
And you were in the parking lot
Subterranean2. by your own design
The virtue of your style inscribed
On your contempt for mine
Jesus was a beggar, he was rich in grace
And Solomon kept his head in all his glory
It's just that some steps outside the Boho dance
Have a fascination for me
A camera pans the cocktail hour
Behind a blind of potted palms
And finds a lady in a Paris dress
With runs in her nylons
You read those books where luxury
Comes as a guest to take a slave
Books where artists in noble poverty
Go like virgins to the grave3.
Don't you get sensitive on me
'Cause I know you're just too proud
You couldn't step outside the Boho dance now
Even if good fortune allowed
Like a priest with a pornographic watch
Looking and longing on the sly
Sure it's stricken from your uniform
But you can't get it out of your eyes
Nothing is capsulized in me
On either side of town
The streets were never really mine
Not mine, these glamour gowns
The Boho Dance, Joni Mitchell.
Joni Mitchell moved to Bel Air, one of the three platinum-gated suburbs of Los Angeles, in 1975. Her previous album4. had provided her greatest commercial success and generated enough sales to move her out of Bohemian Laurel Canyon. She maintained both houses across town, but lived beside the magistrates and politicians instead of the handcrafters of wooden jewellery. The Bel Air mansion itself was memorialised on the back cover of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, flanked, for some reason, by Burundi natives schlepping a giant snake. The Laurel Canyon house was immortalised in song5..
In the same year, Tom Wolfe wrote, in The Painted Word, about the Boho Dance6., a condition with which Ms. Mitchell must have been acquainted. It is, he observed, the series of frantic movements and contorted gestures through which the artist must put themselves to make a living: with one hand, they must flip the Bourgeoisie an offensive, avant-garde gesture, while clasping the middle-class shoulder with the other, lest the Bourgeoisie and their money get away. Who else but the reasonably well-to-do could afford to keep an artist anyway?
Those who impress achieve the act of The Consummation7., by which they get to move to bigger houses in Bel Air or Manhattan or both. Still, they must try even harder to arrive at the opera in paint-spattered jeans or otherwise show they do not belong with the Bourgeoisie, now that money no longer marks the difference. Even a gruff declaration of genius in an interview may do the job8..
The musician doesn’t have it so bad as the painter, as they can sell several million copies of a single album. Some even do so. One could hardly do the Boho Dance in 2/4 anyway, but the folkies tried. Ms. Mitchell claimed that she had always been a painter first and foremost9.; Leonard Cohen was a poet10.; Phil Ochs was a singing journalist11.. Each one denying that they were really pop musicians with millions of adoring fans. And, even when those fans wanted Bob Dylan to be the earnest folk artiste, he betrayed them with a Gretsch12.. He said, with tongue in cheek, that he was “just a Song & Dance man13..” Fans should listen to you, but never you to them.
People like pop songs only if they sound good, but they like popstars for more complex reasons. Like Mr. Wolfe in the art world, a star is invisible without a theory behind them14.. There must be some place, some myth, or some imaginary scape where the artist and listener can meet on equal terms. It’s certainly not Ms. Mitchell’s Bel Air palace or her 80 acres in British Columbia. She and her contemporaries, however, are eternally associated with the counter-culture Bohemias of the 60s and 70s.
All the appropriate locales are valourised in song: Greenwich Village15., Chelsea16., Laurel Canyon17., and Haight-Ashbury18., each with charm or poignancy. Even when Mitchell critiques the Boho Dance from afar, she presents the Greenwich setting as affected but sweet. There are no such paeans to neighbouring19. Bel Air townhouses or Manhattan penthouses; no one wants to hear about a millionaire’s quality of life. At most, the wealthy suburb is lambasted for being stifling and for the disapproving hiss of summer lawns20.. No artist ever wants to appear to be on the side of the Bourgeoisie, even if they are the same side of the platinum gate.
1. “So no wonder that in certain cities of America, in New York of course, and New Orleans, in Chicago and San Francisco and Los Angeles, in such American cities as Paris and Mexico, D.F., this particular part of a generation was attracted to what the Negro had to offer. In such places as Greenwich Village. a menage-a-trois was completed—the bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face-to-face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life.” Norman Mailer, The White Negro, 1957. This before Ms. Mitchell's jazz collaborations, most notably with Charlie Mingus in 1979.
2. Scènes de la vie de bohème, Henry Murger, 1851.
3. The Subterraneans, Jack Kerouac, 1958.
4. Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell, 1974.
5. “Our house is a very, very fine house/With two cats in the yard/Life used to be so hard/Now everything is easy/'Cause of you.” Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Our House, 1970; documenting the affair between Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell and the house they shared in Laurel Canyon.
6. “(1) The Boho Dance, in which the artist shows his stuff within the cirles, coteries, movements, isms, of the home neighbourhood, Bohemia itself, as if he doesn't care about anything else; as if, in face, he has a knife in his teeth against the fashionable world uptown.” Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, 1975.
7. “(2) The Consummation, in which culturati from that very same world, le monde, scout the various new movements and new artist of Bohemia, select those who seem the most exciting, original, important, by whatever standards--and shower themwith all the rewards of celebrity.” ibid.
8. “Well, sometimes you do get arrogant because there's no one defending you but yourself. I mean, that's where my arrogance lives in, you know, defending my work.” Joni Mitchell, in interview with Tavis Smiley, 2007.
9. “I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by circumstance.” Attributed and quoted on www.jonimitchell.com
10. 'The Poet of Rock Music' – Subtitle on Leonard Cohen tour posters, 1976. Although, everything that Mr. Cohen says must be considered with the bend of his brow. Like Mr. Dylan, there is the possibility that, while one can snub the fans be claiming to be something other than a pop singer, one can also snub their fanaticism by claiming to be only a pop singer. Mr. Cohen began as a published poet before learning to play guitar in the 60s, reading poetry at his shows throughout his career: “a man in elfin boots, long hair and a cloak who stands up in one of those moments of pregnant, reverential silence which punctuate a Cohen performance and shouts out 'God bless you, Leonard' to crackle of sympathetic applause from the rest of the audience; an audience which, in short, substantiates the tag 'The Poet' more than it does the description 'Of Rock and Roll...'” Mick Brown, The Return of Leonard Cohen, Sounds magazine, July 1976.
11. “Before the days of television and mass media, the folksinger was often a traveling newspaper spreading tales through music. There is an urgent need for Americans to look deeply into themselves and their actions, and musical poetry is perhaps the most effective mirror available. Every newspaper headline is a potential song.” Phil Ochs' introduction to The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo from Phil Ochs in Concert, 1966.
12. “Judas,” audience member at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965, when Dylan first played an electrc guitar as part of his live set. It was a Fender Stratocaster, not a Gretsch, but that rhymes even less with the word kiss.
13. “I'm just a song and dance man.” Bob Dylan, 1965, in repsonse to accusations that he was the 'voice of a generation.'
14. “What I saw before me was the critic-in-chief of the New York Times saying: In looking at a picture today, 'to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial.' I read it again. It didn't say 'something helpful' or 'enriching' or even 'extremely valuable.' No, the word was crucial. In short, frankly these days, without a theory to go with it, I can't see a painting.” Tom Wolfe, ibid.
15. Bleeker Street – Simon & Garfunkel, Greenwich Village Folk Song Salesman – Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood, Positively 4th Street – Bob Dylan, Talkin' New York – Bob Dylan, etc.
16. Chelsea Hotel #2 – Leonard Cohen, Chelsea Girls (album and song) – Nico, Chelsea Morning – Joni Mitchell, etc.
17. Laurel Canyon Blvd. - Van Dyke Parks, Laurel Canyon (album and song) – Jackie DeShannon, Ladies of the Canyon (album and song) – Joni Mitchell, etc.
18. (If You're Going to) San Fransisco – Scott McKenzie, Haight-Ashbury, the Beautiful– Ashleigh Brilliant, etc.
19. “For getting away from the Bourgeoisie there's nothing like packing up your paints and easel and heading for Tahiti, or even Brittany, which was Gauguin's first stop. But who else even got as far as Brittany? Nobody. The rest got no further than the heights of Montmartre and Montparnasse, which are what?--perhaps two miles from the Champs Elysees. Likewise in the United States: belive me, you can get all the tubes of Winsor & Newton paint you want in Cincinnati, but the artists keep migrating to New York all the same...” Tom Wolfe, ibid. The Boho is the inverse of the Hobo; one is free of place, the other dependent on it.
20. “He gave her his darkness to regret/And good reason to quit him/He gave her a roomful of Chippendale/That nobody sits in/Still she stays with a love of some kind/It's the lady's choice/The hissing of summer lawns.” Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, 1975.
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|Saturday, April 16th, 2011|
6:47 pm - Bohemian Footnotes #2 - Bohemian Like You
You got a great car.
Yeah, what's wrong with it today?
I used to have one too,
Maybe I'll come and have a look.
I really love your hairdo, yeah.
I'm glad you like mine too,
See we're looking pretty cool.
So what do you do?
Oh yeah, I wait tables too.
No I haven't heard your band
Cause you guys are pretty new.
But if you dig on Vegan food.
Well come over to my work
I'll have them cook you something that you'll really love.
Cause I like you,
Yeah I like you.
And I'm feeling so Bohemian like you,
Yeah I like you,
Yeah I like you,
And I feel wahoo, wahoo, wahoo!
Wait. Who's that guy just hanging at your pad?
He's lookin' kinda bummed.
Yeah you broke up that's too bad.
I guess it's fair if he always pays the rent
And he doesn't get all bent
About sleepin' on the couch when I'm there... Etc.
Bohemian Like You, Courtney Taylor-Taylor.
With sixty percent being good middle-class boys, The Rolling Stones were Bohemians from the start1.. They didn’t need rock’n’roll to work for them, like Mr. Presley or The Beatles did. The others could break the rules once they’d become successful, but Mick Jagger was still enrolled at the LSE and could become a banker anytime he chose. He was into R’n’B for purely aesthetic reasons, meaning that, even if his blues were never very sincere (and he never wanted them to be), the band’s imitation of the blues always was2..
If The Stones and others managed to mobilise millions of students and teenagers in free-love and drug-use, they encouraged even more to sit in their parents’ houses listening to records. The mass-Bohemianism of the late-sixties changed Bohemia from a place that could be pin-pointed on no map to a state-of-being transmitted through record sales3.. One could consume Bohemia or live it vicariously; working all day and growing your hair long at night4.. You could even try and live it, if you wanted, with the rock star as the perfect role-model. Youth culture and mass-Bohemianism became the same, just as rock’n’roll was a synonym for freedom5..
It was no surprise then that The Dandy Warhols cribbed, knowingly, The Stones’ Brown Sugar, when they mined the platinum snub of Bohemian Like You. Not because The Rolling Stones were a joke, but because the image of the Bohemian The Stones had constructed was still the one to aspire to thirty years later. Or, at least, it was the popular image of Bohemianism, because the music was still popular. It was something upon which even parents and progeny could agree.
The litany of clichés sung were snide, but harmless; they must have applied to The Dandy Warhols once and most of their fans still6.. The joke was that we could all sound like that if we took ourselves too seriously. And, in the video of the single, the words run along the screen, as on a karaoke video, so that you can sound like that if you wish.
Of course, The Dandy Warhols are singing the song for real, on the records7. and in the ads8.. They made the money from it too. The rock star’s success makes them acceptable9.. Without stardom, one can support the rock’n’roll fantasy from a minimum wage (The Slacker) or a trust fund (The Hipster), but, however it is done, it remains only the moving around of the image, rather than Bohemianism itself. To be successful, one must play by the rules or, at least, cheat discretely. And with success come mansions instead of squats and A* grade drugs instead of whatever killed that guy you‘ve never heard of. Rock stars would be decadents, if they could find the time10..
Rock is the right medium for the Bohemian; it rejects technique, offering a living without demanding discipline. All you need is someone to drive the van. The Rolling Stones have a bus though and so do The Dandy Warhols. Such are the trappings of success and it is the successful ones that people want to be like. Ever-changing non-convention is easily ignored for the time-tested representation, but when the two set against each other, as in the Dandy Warhols/Brian Jonestown11. Massacre12. tour film, DiG!, the difference becomes clear13.: The Dandys organise their photoshoot in the BJM’s drug-strewn, party-ruined living room. Although, few would have heard of the film, if they hadn’t heard of The Dandy Warhols first.
1. "(The Beatles' success) allowed the Rolling Stones to come along and then be as cool, as obnoxious, as bohemian, as 'fuck you,' as in-your-face as they wanted to be. It suddenly turned out that you could act this way and not suddenly burst into flames. You could just get away with it." Greil Marcus in interview with Jason Gross, June 1997.
2. “Mick Jagger was never a rocker. He wasn't a mod, either. He was a bohemian, an antiutopian version of what Americans called a folkie. That is, he was attracted to music of a certain innocence as only a fairly classy--and sophisticated--person can be.” Robert Christgau, The Rolling Stones, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 1976.
3. “What was about to happen was an unprecedented contradiction in terms, mass bohemianism, and this is where the idea of "pop" became key. (…) Applied first to low-priced classical concerts and then to Tin Pan Alley product, the word was beginning to achieve more general cultural currency by the mid-Fifties, when London-based visual artists like Eduardo Paolozzi were proposing that a schlock form (e.g., science fiction pulp) might nurture "a higher order of imagination" than a nominally experimental one (e.g., little magazine). Shocking.” Robert Christgau, Ibid.
4. “There were solid economic reasons for the rise of mass bohemianism. Juxtapose a 20-year rise in real income to the contradiction in which the straight-and-narrow worker/producer is required to turn into a hedonistic consumer off-hours, and perhaps countless kids, rather than assuming their production function on schedule, will choose to "fulfill themselves" outside the job market. (…) for all these kids, popular culture meant rock and roll, the art form created by and for their hedonistic consumption. In turn, rock and roll meant the Rolling Stones.” Robert Christgau, Ibid.
5. “We don’t care, we want product as cynically as they dish it, too bad. After all, the stones have a lot to stand for. After all, so do we.” Lester Bangs, It’s Only The Rolling Stones, The Village Voice, Oct. 1974.
6. "The Portland quartet known as the Dandy Warhols were born kicking and screaming in 1993, making music to, ahem, “drink to”, an alternative soundtrack for slackers, stoners, and midnight tokers which celebrated the permanent vacations of the elegantly wasted. Think Keith Richards with New Wave hair." Matt James, Pop Matter, Aug. 2010.
7. Bohemian Like You, No. 5 in the UK charts, 2001, taken from the album Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia.
8. Vodafone, Ford Focus, Ford Mustang, Holden Astra,GM Summerdrive, Citroen C4 Picasso, Next.
9. “Conservatives can accept some Bohemianism, but only for the few to whom it is appropriate, not for the masses and as Allan Bloom wrote, it must justify itself with intellectual or artistic achievement. Anything else is just mass non-conformism, as self-contradictory as it is self-indulgent.” Robert Locke, Sweet Land of Libertarians: A Conservative Critique of Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About America, Front Page Magazine.
10. “We’re too busy to be decadent.” Bill Wyman in an unpublished interview with Lester Bangs, cited in Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste.
11. Brian Jones, of The Rolling Stones, died on July 3rd 1969.
12. Although presented in the film as an unhinged, self-destructive, 'free spirit,' the 60s-based music of Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre is described as: "not an act of invention; it was not based on any pretense of crafting something new; it was a thoroughly post-modern music; it was pastiche of everything." Carlo McCormick, editor Paper Magazine, DiG!, 2004.
13. "The Dandy Warhols are the greatest cartoon, that's what I think it takes to be successful as a pop star. I don't give a fuck what they do. It's not for me; he's not singing songs to me." Anton Newcombe on The Dandy Warhols, Ibid; "They were absolutely our favourite band. And they were the most interesting, amazing characters, but it's basically like a pack of fourteen year old boys from abusive, broken homes set loose in the ghetto. Y'know, that's basically what that felt like. Yeah, let's go hang out with them, but come on, these kids are all gonna end up in prison." Courtney Taylor, of The Dandy Warhols, on The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Ibid.
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|Friday, April 15th, 2011|
2:34 pm - Bohemian Footnotes #1 - Bohemia After Dark
“Kenny Clarke, veteran modernist who still out-rhythms, out-solos, and out-guesses all comers in the percussion field is the pivotal point around which this album revolves . . . or, perhaps Swings, is a better word. As a great jazz musician, he is also able to recognize potential greatness in other musicians. After all, his part in laying the rhythmic foundation for modern jazz is no small one! Here, he has brought to Savoy and Ozzie Cadena (A&R chief) a group of "new" jazz stars . . . most performing for the first time on wax here! Titled after that out standing N.Y. City club that has been a prime force in the presentation of the "hard bop" East Coast (if you like terms) school of jazz, the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village has been a jazzman's home away from home! (Unfortunately, the young lady gracing our cover does NOT come with the drinks at the club.) The recording date was extremely informal. From the rather large group the men organized their riffs, took turns and blew. Very few re-takes were made, because the spirited session seemed to "take off just right" and stay that way! Out of Chaos comes Beauty, they say ... and from the freedom of organization and uniformity in tight arranging has come an outstanding "blowing" session of high merit! The jazz world owes thanks to Kenny for his "discovery" for records of the brothers Adderley, who were fresh up from Florida when recorded here. Additional thanks too for the opportunity to record such stellar "youngsters" as Don Byrd, Paul Chambers, and Jerome Richardson . . . all 3 now rated among the leading lights on today's scene.”
Sleeves notes from Bohemia After Dark LP.
Quite a bit smaller than “The Jazz Corner of the World” that was Birdland was the Café Bohemia, which, according to certain record sleeves, was only “The Jazz Corner of the Village1..” It was a jazz club only by accident; its owner, hardly interested in the stuff at all, had failed at everything else2.. One drunkard promised to pay his tab by playing a string of shows there, but, by the night of the first, cirrhosis of the liver, and a few other things, had already killed Charlie Parker - for it was he! The name on the posters, though, had already changed the nature of the place3..
Oscar Pettiford led the house band for a while and wrote Bohemia After Dark in the venue’s honour. Not in the least romantic, barely even smoky, it is New York hard-bop or, as it said on the door, “progressive jazz only4..” With no lyric, the piece conveys the atmosphere of the music club through music alone, making it, like all post-swing jazz, nothing more than music for music’s sake: rhythms to which you can nod your head, but never dance5..
Cannonball Adderley became one of the stars of hard-bop, coming to prominence after sitting in on a session with Pettiford at the Bohemia. He had only just moved to New York from Florida and brought his sax to the club for fear of it being stolen. Within a few weeks, he had already recorded Bohemia After Dark with the Kenny Clarke Sextet. Of course, later reissues would have to put Adderley’s name on the front so that people would buy it, for, by then, he had already played on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and led successful groups of his own.
A number of key live LPs would be recorded at Bohemia in the three years that it opened6. and Mr. Davis would found his first important quintets there. It couldn’t last though, neither as a pit-stop for touring musicians or young tyros trying to make names for themselves: the young players do make their names and the old names go on touring, sending each off to bigger venues. Even the notion of bop as a hard, intellectual music with no white audience couldn’t last7.. Black musicians may have stopped being merely the white man’s entertainer, but they couldn’t stop white listeners being entertained.
There was a difference between earlier white Bohemianism and black Bohemianism (or Bohemia after dark, if you’ll forgive me): Bohemianism generally meant giving something up or renouncing one’s privilege and most of those young jazz players had neither. So, where in other fields, the artist may prove the purity of their intention by declining the money, Mr. Davis could scowl, refuse to compromise, and take it anyway, without caring what anybody says8.. Even Mr. Adderley, who had a conservatory education, would do well without compromising any notions of being an outsider, because jazz came from the outside, so, when it moved to the concert hall and the arts festival, it was only fair to charge people to get in.
1. As seen on certain reissues of Bohemia After Dark.
2. “For six months, I tried to make the place pay, first as a bar and restaurant, then with girl shows, and then with various acts.” Jimmy Garofalo, the owner of Café Bohemia, in an interview with The Village Voice.
3. “The Bohemia’s audience reminded me of cafes in Europe, where people were serious and intense, and paid attention. They regarded the music as an art form, and even acted a little superior about the fact that they were there and listening to Miles.” George Avakian, quoted in "When Giants Walked the Village," Downbeat magazine, 2005.
4. “As long as they could, they would create a chamber music - even a soloist’s music - of protest and rejection, playing for themselves as Outsiders. They would accept the fact that the only vitality they could encompass was the nervous frenzy of a jungle turned to asphalt. Their music was their religion in that they put into it all the skeletonic truth they knew. Having played it, they died of consumption, drinks, drugs, or mental breakdown.” Wilfred Mellers, Music in a New Found Land.
5. “Swing had always been a staple component of jazz in any category, because jazz began as dance music, and without a detectable beat the dancers would have been stymied. (…) No matter how complex, subtle or allusive it became, jazz had always contained that energizing simplicity. Unfortunately bebop had the technical means to eliminate it.” Clive James, Cultural Amnesia.
6. Charlie Mingus - Live from Cafe Bohemia; Kenny Dorham - 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia; Art Blakely - At the Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 1, 2, 3...; The Jazz Messengers - At the Cafe Bohemia, Nov. 11-23, 1955; George Wallington - Complete Live at the Cafe Bohemia; Etc.
7. “A new soapbox for minority groups that have special brands of music to get off their little chests.” The New Yorker magazine, 1955.
8. “If I don’t like what they write, I get into my Ferrari and I drive away.” Miles Davis, Attributed.
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2:19 pm - Everyone is reading New Escapologist, even beautiful women
The exciting new issue of New Escapologist has arrived, at last, at my home, where it is now being read by everybody. It is the longest issue yet released, with over one hundred pages, and looks as beautiful as ever. Moreso, even, as the lovely Ms. Samara Lieber has designed a new-look cover.
It deals exclusively with the subject of Bohemianism: a subject distant from my heart. The self-professed Bohemians that I tend to meet are lumbered with privilege and a stubborn, teenaged contrarianism. Thankfully, none of them made it. Instead, Issue Five features articles from the likes of the lovely Mr. Dickon Edwards (on bedsits), the lovely Mr. Neil Scott (on beards), and an interview with the -I've never met him, so I can't say- Mr. Alain de Botton (on record). One of my typically long-winded essays appears, this time on the topic of Mr. Satie, who, himself, was never long-winded.
In glorious revelry over this release, I will include, over the next few days, a few pieces that I wrote that did not make the final publication: some short, fragmentary extrapolations of Bohemia's appearances in pop lyrics and on rock records. Why, though, you might ask, would I publish here, articles deemed insufficiently good for proper paper release? Well, they have been sitting at the back of a drawer for several months now and the study is really beginning to stink.
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|Tuesday, April 12th, 2011|
11:20 am - Authors on Stamps
|Tuesday, April 5th, 2011|
11:33 am - 'Why, Coventry!' I exclaimed. "I was born here.'
On the day that the latest Radiohead record, The King of Limbs, was released, I also had, palmed into my hand, the newest album from The Vichy Government. This was in a London side-street, just off the Coliseum, during one of Parsifal’s many intervals. It was the singer himself, Mr. Jamie Manners, who made the exchange and, with less warning and more secure delivery than the Radiohead release, my excitement about Coventry was much the greater.|
Named after keyboardist, Mr. Andrew Chilton’s favourite Cathedral city, Coventry is the fourth in a long line of three Vichy Government records.
With The King of Limbs, the done thing was to live-blog one’s first experience of the record. I was on holiday at the time and hardly in any position to live-anything. Even if it were possible, I would have been immediately too late: it had been live-blogged to death. Luckily, I had Coventry secreted in my luggage when I arrived home; I hadn’t listened to it yet and, well I imagine, neither had anybody else. I live-blogged it instantly, by which I mean I mumbled things to the cat as we wandered through the empty house, listening to the record quite loudly. The cat was kind enough to record everything as soon as she returned.
Turn On, Tune In, Vote Mugabe
“Their cocks are glistening with pre-cum as they line us up against a wall”… “As the youthful idiots go marching through the streets, Lenin looks down from his balcony and nods”… vile homophobic screed directed at The Kremlin gay bar in Belfast, with its fiberglass statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin on the balcony over the door. Disgraceful propaganda for notorious homophobe Robert Mugabe.
“Flytipping deserves a quiet night.” Like the titular activity, the songwriting here consists of dumping dated odds and sods on an otherwise beautiful setting, that is pop cultural references on what appears to be the backing of Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac.
The Nudes of Modigliani
Mr. Manners is at his best when dissecting the ways in which men look at women: The Male Gaze from Whores in Taxis. This is also good.
The Kids in North Korea
Orientalism, based on the premise that the experiences of the children of North Korea will somehow be different to those of us in the West. Lazy exoticism; Edward Said furious! Has music not progressed since Claude Debussy?
Using the same conceit as Mr. Momus’ A Lapdog, Mr. Manners uses exile to tundra as a metaphor for absence. “Siberia is wherever your face and voice are not” Your arse?
All the Young Dudes
Having heard this one too many times at a Christmas party, I am now immune to its charms. Now, Arthur, stop that! Stop scratching the settee! Bad cat.
St. Jamie of Islington
Mr. Manner’s teetering conversion to Catholicism has been en point and on the edge for years now. Like many of the finest Catholics, though, it is purely aesthetic.
Oranges are the Only Fruit
An imaginary present in which post-modernism prevails and homogeneity is the only option. The only heterodoxy permissible is in sexuality, which, of course, results in Ms. Winterson being heterosexual herself, which means that she never writes Orange are not the Only Fruit and Mr. Manners is never inspired to write the song.
Unusually polished production for The Vichy Government. Arthur, stop it. Stop it. Now stop.
The Man Delusion
No! Bad cat. Fine! Get out. Get out. Through the door. Go on. Go on then!
Bloody thing. I don’t know why I put up with you, really I don’t. Why, if you were only four feet taller, I’d… Why, I’d... Get out! And don’t come back! O, a clarinet?
We are Now at War with Germany
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|Tuesday, March 1st, 2011|
12:00 pm - Master Flea or Master Piece? Fate decides
Several years ago (as many as four), I received a copy of The Golden Pot in the post. There was no why nor how about it, no letter of introduction or explanation. It had simply arrived at my door in a brown jiffy bag, with my name and address on the front, in a script I did not recognise. I believe it took five days for me to notice the ‘& Other Stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann’ subtitle on the cover and it was two or three more before I checked to see what these were: The Sandman, with which I was familiar, My Cousin’s Corner Window, with which I was not, and Master Flea.|
Master Flea was, of course, the full-length novel of German Romanticism that my erstwhile collaborator, Mr. Martin White of the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra, had spoken of in great detail through a series of e-mails months before. So great was the detail, in fact, that no clarification was required with the package. He hoped that we might work together on converting the work into a musical. Unfortunately, when the book arrived, I had forgotten all about this. Frankly, I thought I had acquired yet another secret admirer with an inclination to communicate through gruesome fairytales.
Master Flea, our concert musical in one act, was debuted on Monday, February 21st 2011, in the Leicester Square Theatre, which is not a boxing arena in the East Midlands. It starred (and I truly mean starred) Chris Gilvan-Cartwright, as E.T.A. Hoffmann, Colin Hoult as Theodor Hippel, Thom Tuck as Eduard Hitzig, Catharine Rogers as Julia Marc, Martin White as Johannes Kreisler, and Jeremy Limb as Police Chief Kamptz. Music was provided by the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra and Mr. Foz Foster (from favourites of my adolescence, David Devant & his Spirit Wife ). And appreciative noises were mostly provided by the audience, except for the lovely Ms. Aislinn Clarke, who was trying to capture the performance for posterity, and I, who was largely hyperventilating.
Colin Hoult & MFMO - If I Could Step Inside Your Mind
Most of the songs have been in differing states of completion for years. Since the novel arrived, I had been scribbling lyrical ideas under my desk in work or sneaking to the bathroom in order to check the spelling of character names. Writing lyrics as I read the book – actually, an epic, scholarly work of seven incomprehensible adventures – meant that we ended with much more material than anyone would care to hear. It was too much even for the first, two-and-a-half-hour-long draft that we intended to press into the mouth of Cameron Mackintosh. The script that was used, in the end, was written over three afternoons a week or so before the first performance. The cast managed two rehearsals, I believe. It was slightly shorter than two-and-a-half-hours. Cameron MacIntosh didn’t show. And thank goodness for that; it sold out and he would just have proved a fire hazard.
Cat Rogers & MFMO - I Sleep Amongst The Tall, Tall Flowers
The under-rehearsed nature of the performance was perfectly suited to the work. Unable to understand Hoffmann’s tale ourselves, Mr. White and I agreed that it was best to present the story of how the author attempted to salvage his banned and censored novel as a play. However, if anyone can actually explain to us what happens at the end of Master Flea, we would be eternally grateful.
Mr. Hoffmann wrote the book in 1821, the year before he died. It was to be serialised in a newspaper, but, unfortunately, when sending the first part to his publisher, he forgot to keep a copy for himself. When he wrote the second part, he could barely remember the names of the characters and began to get himself a little confused. By the time he submitted the second section, he had already insulted the Chief of Police, his boss, in a vicious satire and was beginning to fall ill. The conclusion, then, was written in a fug of bodily breakdown and mental turmoil, mostly in the hallucinations of fever, I like to think; in all, not the sort of cohesive narrative that allows one to tell a story through music. Of course, I didn’t know the story was quite so perplexing until I’d reached the second chapter, by which point I had already written forty-five sets of lyrics.
Monday, February 21st 2011 was, also, incidentally, closing night. This draft of the script has been sent to our publisher and I am beginning to feel a little ill. I think I remember most of it though and a Belfast production is sure to come together with as little hands-on effort from me as was this wonderful London show.
I extend my thanks to everybody involved. And thank G-d that Mr. White and I didn’t have to play and perform the whole thing by ourselves.
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|Wednesday, February 9th, 2011|
11:03 am - Working Title: All Good Boys Despise Froots
The young people that mostly comprise Tales Of The…, the Nirish genre-fiction blog collective, were roped into contributing to the recent Belfast One Minute Film Festival by someone. I believe it was me, as I don’t have a camera.|
In one afternoon, it was agreed that we would write and record as many one minute films as we could possibly. In the end, though, we wrote and recorded slightly fewer than we could possibly; I attribute this to very interesting radio documentary about the Derry Walls that came on in Mr. Costello’s car.
If I recall correctly, three films were recorded in all. Maybe four even. And, of course, all the busy contributors missed the submission deadline. However, they will all appear, at weekly intervals, on www.talesofthe.com and things started, at the end of January, with A Serious Matter, a piece starring the excellent Mr. Andrew Croskery and my own Mr. Costello. More will follow.
This week, they posted the following: Robbery for a Minute. In it, one can see m’colleague, Mr. Costello, and myself acting roles not dissimilar to our own characters. It is a veritable cinema of verite. This is something Mr. Costello has threatened to do at every rehearsal since we first played music together at the ages of 15.
Thanks must be extended to Mr. Jim McMorro who edited the whole show. I don’t pretend to know what the music is, but it certainly makes the film exciting, if not listenable.
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|Monday, December 6th, 2010|
11:50 am - In Collaboration
This evening, I will speak with Mr. Stuart Bailie at his usual time for receiving guests. Our topic for two-hours is, reflexively, the pop collaboration, which will, no doubt, tail off towards the end, as all of my two-hour conversation tend to.|
The pleasure of compiling the play list was the ease with which one could include female voices. I try always to include my favourite female performers, but, when kissing the bedrock of roll, as one must on genuinely listened-to radio, women will appear only sporadically, tokenistically at times. That is how the canon has been compiled. And, yet, here they are.
However, it is clear that women’s roles in these collaborations are of specific types: the Grand Dame, rescued from drunkenness or insignificance, by young gay men with stars in their eyes (PBS & Dusty Springfield & Liza Minnelli, Bronski Beat & Eartha Kitt, Morrissey & Sandie Shaw, Marc Almond & Gene Pitney, Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballe); the on-loan larynx of the electro track (Tracey Thorn & Massive Attack, Liz Fraser & Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry & Massive Attack, Shara Nelson & Massive Attack); the ventriloquist’s doll (Serge Gainsbourg & France Gall, Prince & Sheena Easton) or the pretty object of the duettist’s desire (Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, Bobby Gillespie & Kate Moss).
In most cases, it seems planned. There are few examples of that old story of studios side-by-side, of how Alice Cooper worked with Donavan, how Miles Davis worked with Scritti Politti, or how Peter Gabriel worked with Paul Weller. Even when the female component of the pairing is the most brutal, esoteric, or daring (Anita Lane with Nick Cave, say, or Lydia Lunch with Rowland S. Howard), it can seem that she is used as much for her image as for her musical contribution.
When a female performer guests with a male or group of males, there is always the presumption of sex, if not in the studio, then at least in the song. As the guest, as supplicant to the tune called by the male songwriter, she is exploited, used, almost always, as a voice and not an instrumentalist. The same is not true in the reverse: when Rolf Harris appears on Kate Bush’s record, when Thom Yorke appears on Bjork’s record, or Charlie Mingus appears at the request of Joni Mitchell, there is no frisson. They appear as equals, no more or less than the Bulgarian female choir that Ms. Bush called in or the Inuit housewives that Ms. Guðmundsdóttir’s hired. Their roles, musically or narratively, tend to be more impressionistic. Even when Prince appeared on The Red Shoes, he was a total gentleman.
I was once asked why there were so few all-female bands that had lasted as long as The Rolling Stones. The only solution I could imagine was that the notion of the band was uninviting. In pop music, woman appear to succeed more easily as solo performers, not because they wish to work in isolation, but because they want to collaborate more freely. The credits of any pop starlet’s record or of any acclaimed songstress will be filled with contributors and guest appearances, far more than would appear on that of a band or, even, most male soloists. And, thus, perhaps, the gang mentality of the band explains the odd position the female singer assumes when she joins them: not wholly at ease, not fully integrated, incapable of becoming part of the hyper masculine aesthetic and, thus, appearing all the more female. Pop music persists in being a male-dominated world, so any female performer will seem at odds in it. However, those few - like Ms. Bush, like Ms. Guðmundsdóttir - who create their own worlds within the world are able to invite anyone they like into it.
Anyway, tonight, 10.15pm or thereabouts, Radio Ulster.
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|Monday, October 4th, 2010|
11:34 am - The word Anthologies always reminds me of my crippling childhood lisp
My past has come back to haunt me, not in the ethereal or peripheral presence of a spectre, but in the imposing, solid physicality of books. Two anthologies are to be released this month that include my own juvenilia, alongside the fully-formed, mature works of others.|
I wrote several pieces for Edinburgh’s The One O’Clock Gun, at least one of which I recall slogging over, full of cold discipline, in a Spartan bedsit, miles from the peaceful Athens of the North. I gather that The Gun is now to be decommissioned and some of its most explosive elements remembered for all time. One inclusion in The One O’Clock Gun Anthology is a piece of mine, which I now realise punches the final line a little too similarly to a work by Ivor Cutler. No one else noticed though. The book also includes one or two poems from my dear housemate, therein Mr. Plume, in which the three-personed G-d is battered, and, most excitingly of all, an Alasdair Gray who I like to presume is the Alasdair Gray.
The other anthology is Survival Stories, pieced together by the very hard-working Sleepless Phoenix collective. The tragic story of its existence can be fully explained here, but, needless to say, people with more dedication than I did more work I could have thought possible. It includes my first attempt at writing a comic script and I have not seen the final artwork yet, but I have absolute faith in other human beings. The uncharacteristic setting of the story (who thought I would ever write about a war?) is, hopefully, balanced by the much more fitting weak pun that is central to everything I do. The book, to be launched, I believe, at BICS, includes submissions from such close friends and associates as Mr. Andrew Croskery, and Mr. Stephen Downey . Hopefully, they will be appearing at the convention to cheapening the work with their signatures.
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|Monday, September 20th, 2010|
10:26 am - Introducing Prof. Johnston, as he did me
Several weeks ago, I wrote a few brief paragraphs on Jacques Brel, none of which you will remember. Amongst the searing insights, I said many things: “At least, though” for example and “a perversion of himself” for another. Most lamentably, I concluded with this most off-hand statement:|
“Incidentally, the most accurate translation of Brel’s works, meeting the standards of the writer’s widow, are by Professor Arnold Johnston, of Western Michigan University. But, naturally, his recordings are hard to come by, due to lack of demand.”
Several weeks fewer than several weeks ago, Professor Johnston extended to me the olive branch of explanation. The issue, as really I knew well, was not lack of demand, but lack of distribution to meet the demand. It is a problem that many musicians face at present. Mr. Costello and I have found that the best way to deal with it is simply to wait until asked directly; this is how we passed around our Awkward Entry epee. Professor Johnston pitched me a similar deal too, offering to send me his record all the way from Kalamazoo.
To flesh out Professor Johnston as character: he is a poet, an author, an actor, and a translator. A Scot by birth and an American by choice, he wrote The Witching Hour, a novelisation of the life of Robert Burns and, with his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, he has written plays that have been performed all over the States, translations that have been read all over Europe, and a collection, Duets, which the Professor was kind enough to include along with the CD.
I haven’t asked, but I like to imagine that Deborah Ann Percy is related to Walker Percy, the author of the lovely The Moviegoer. I will not be told otherwise; not by her, not by anyone.
Regardless of literary connexions, Professor Johnston’s record I’m Here! (a more restrained translation of J’arrive than Mr. Almond’s I’m Coming!) is quite lovely on the whole, especially when the whole is placed in the CD-player. The piano and guitar accompaniments are spare, but pretty, allowing one to focus on the lyrics. While Professor Johnston’s voice, far from the standard academic drone, is clear and articulate - close to Mr. Walker, though perhaps not quite so low and warm; not so harsh and persecutory as M. Brel himself. Although, of course, you should probably ask him about it.
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10:25 am - Things that Nile Rodgers Taught Us
Mr. Bailie and I had no debate over the last figure we would discuss on his radio show. I suggested Nile Rodgers and heads shook in agreement around the room. In the intervening month, I had almost entirely forgotten about it, until it was announced, via Mr. Bailie to me, that Mr. Rodgers would appear in Belfast the week after our broadcast. Naturally, the ante was upped and I felt the need to double-check my facts on the off-chance that Mr. Rodgers was listening to us, hoping to get a feel for the place.|
All went smoothly. The feature was tight, in fact; tight as Bernard Edwards with Tony Thompson on drums. However, it was inevitable that, in such a brief slot, there were things about Mr. Rodgers that would go unsaid. The magnitude of these omissions did not become clear until the guitarist gave his talk before the great open window of the Waterfront Hall bar on Monday past. His rich line in anecdote would have better told his story than Mr. Bailie and I combined.
He is a charming, slightly emaciated gentleman, standing no feet taller than myself, with his knotted hair contained within a nifty green scarf. From the merest hint of a question from Mr. McClean, the chair, he bolts off at a tangent, with a series of fascinating rock’n’roll tales. And, though he hopes not to brag, big names drop from his mouth, like blood and teeth from that of a defeated boxer.
For most of the presentation, he has a cream-bodied, metal-scratch plated Strat about his shoulders, but, for the purpose of illustration, he favours strumming the air in front of it, making sounds with his mouth, and strutting along the stage like Chuck Berry. It is a wonder any Chic records were made at all.
Things that Nile Rodgers taught us:
To judge by his impressions, all English people sound the same to him.
Le Freak became a massive hit in Francophone African nations because they thought the group was singing L’Afrique.
The first Chic recording, Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), was recorded for the sum of $10, which bought the silence of a security guard.
The clarinet has the same written range as the guitar, beginning at the low e below the stave.
Nile Rodgers is the only living person who can tell the Le Freak/Fuck Off Studio 54 anecdote.
David Bowie calls Nile Rodgers darling.
Nile Rodgers is only called in to work with people after they have released a bad record.
The record before Bowie’s Let’s Dance was not Scary Monsters (& Super Creeps) but the Baal Epee.
Standardised education is the best.
Nile Rodgers’ mother had only one period before falling pregnant with him at the age of 13.
That song he was playing was Nefertiti, obviously.
Jeff Beck wanted to record a cover of Vangelis’s entire score for Chariots of Fire.
The Vaughan Brothers were scared of each other.
Peter Gabriel hasn’t written a record good enough for Nile Rodgers.
What Bruce Springsteen does is called Springsteening.
Madonna is really very nice.
And many more.
What Nile Rodgers failed to teach us:
Anything about Black Tie, White Noise.
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|Wednesday, July 28th, 2010|
9:27 am - For or Against the Grain, Or: Huysmans' Check-List
A guest-post made at the New Escapologist blog, with an illustration by Ms. Samara Liebner.|
The title of J-K. Huysmans’ most famous novel, À rebours, can be translated as Against Nature or Against the Grain. But, for me, it is the second possibility that is the more appealing.
In the novel, the high-dandiacal protagonist, Des Esseintes, escapes into a Hinterland of his own creation, living a stylised, aesthetic life far from the nearest townfolk; he reads heretical literature, he mixes experimental cocktails, and he emblazons the shell of his pet tortoise with a wealth of precious stones. His tastes are decadent, gaudy even, and in their concentrated contrarianism, they are against nature. But Des Esseintes’ desire to escape is entirely natural; that he contrives to do it, and succeeds in doing so, is against the grain.
The idea of Against the Grain is wider-reaching, spanning from the self-indulgent aesthete to the self-effacing ascetic and all the points between. Any Escapologist (and you, reader, may be one) would fall somewhere along the spectrum, as Escapology itself requires one to break from convention or go against the accepted way of doing things. How else would one escape?
Huysmans himself never made the sort of escape that Des Esseintes did (although, interestingly, they would die in similar circumstances). He whored and debauched in his youth, but was subsidised through it all by his well-paid job in the civil service; he was a weekender, working five days, writing at night, then carousing with artists in his free time. It was only after the success of his novel, Là-Bas, an exploration of Satanism in 19th century Paris, that he contemplated change.
His research into spiritualism brought about his conversion to Catholicism, which would (as it so often does) affect his life irrevocably. It was an unconventional choice at the time, as anticlericalism had been fierce in France since the Revolution and was especially strong in Huysmans’ later religious decades of the 1880s and 90s. He would document his slow conversion over the span of three novels (En route, La cathédrale, and L’Oblate), detailing his retreats and short stays in country monasteries with Trappist and Benedictine monks.
The simple life of the cloisters appealed to him; it was far removed from the Bourgeois concerns of then-modern Paris, from meaningless jobs, fanciful decadence, and empty, sensationalist literature. He considered himself, however, unfit for the monastic life, but hoped to become an oblate – a lay Catholic who lives near the grounds of a monastery or convent, helping the brothers and sisters in their hermitage. In fact, he planned to found a commune of artist-oblates, who would aid the monks for part of the day and create redemptive art for the remainder.
When his idea of becoming an oblate was made public – revealed in the paper by an unscrupulous literary journalist – his employers at the Ministry of the Interior were both embarrassed and supremely helpful, suggesting that he retire from their department at once. Still, even with this forceful encouragement, Huysmans had his doubts. He recorded them, in his writerly fashion, in a list; his novels are full of them, though this is the only one reproduced in Robert Baldick’s biography.
State of health
Distrust of those people
Don’t feel at home
Feel like running away when I’m there
The argument: “You can do more good with your books by remaining at home”
Vague attraction before and after
Reaction against the Spanish woman’s arguments
Bored with journalism
Problem of how to live settled
Many of us will avoid romantic confrontations with the Spanish woman (the Countess de Galoez in this case), but, for most would-be Escapologists, the other pros and cons read here will be familiar: others are against or do not understand your escape; life will be somehow tougher; fear; that you may do more good within the system; and for “no holiness” read lack of discipline, self-sufficiency, or ability. And I have only listed those Against.
For anyone contemplating an escape, the “Against” column will often look bigger and the things in it more concrete and real. They are genuine uncertainties about the thoughts of friends and family and our capacity to take care of ourselves. In comparison, the “For” column is meagre, populated only with “obscure feeling(s)” and “vague attraction(s).” All that spurs on Huysmans is dissatisfaction with his life as a journalist (and any opportunity to trounce the Spanish woman in debate).
But the “For” column represents the future and, as the future is unknown, it can only be guessed at, intuited, and obscurely felt. That it totes up only unhappiness with one’s current life and the belief that a better one exists should still trump all in the other column. The minutiae of “Against” is, on reflection, nothing more than Bad Faith.
Tackled in Issue Four of New Escapologist, Bad Faith is the notion that one will roll over at the command of the world, playing one’s role in society, and taking no responsibility for one’s own actions. It can be a hard thing to beat and Huysmans’ list shows why: society is all around, it is set in its ways, and its arguments seem to outweigh the few wisps of hope that are “For”. To overcome Bad Faith, one must take chances, look to the future (where the unknown is kept), and go Against the Grain.
Huysmans is probably not the best example to follow though. He did not stay an oblate for long, abandoning the commune idea and, upon returning to Paris, he wrote a fictionalised account of the experience, which received heavy criticism from his own Catholic church. He probably spent too much time worrying about lists to concentrate on his religious duties.
At the end of À rebours, Des Esseintes decides he must return to Paris too. He saw no other option. Even the feckless dandy figure had his doubts; still, he died straight away.
It can be a difficult thing to do, breaking Bad Faith; Huysmans and Des Esseintes would agree, certainly. And, though each of them was disheartened, there is no reason that you should be. For Bad Faith is overcome, not by success, but by action that may lead to success. If one’s effort fails – you do not found your oblate commune; you tire of your ornamental hideaway – there is still the fact that, in so acting, one overcame Bad Faith. This is an achievement in itself and, once done, it can done again and again, each time more easily and more naturally. For there is no point in going only partially Against the Grain.
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|Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010|
12:18 pm - In Nireland, we do not talk with terrorists, only former terrorists...
I first met Mr. Wolfgang Moneypenny through his second or third wife. It is no matter which, as revolutionary convention has it that spouses round concurrently, not sequentially. He, and they, had recently moved to Belfast, following an incident in, then, South London, which I may not yet be at liberty to discuss.|
This was the year 2000 and they lasted, I think, twelve months here. During this time, he was the door manager of Giro’s, a commune-come-nightclub, and it was here that we became familiar. I was intrigued, I must admit, by his unbridled enthusiasm, unbridled energy, and unbridled mouth. He operated, initially, under an assumed name, but, when we struck a confidence, he revealed himself as Mr. Moneypenny, the Mr. Moneypenny, of the incident in South London that I may not yet be at liberty discuss.
I am wary of extremists, as you know. Who in Nireland is not (apart from the electorate)? However, though our views sometimes clashed, I developed a fondness for Mr. Moneypenny; were we not, after all, just two men who loved their countries, their cultures, and their indigenous peoples? We were two men looking towards the future with both eyes forward.
His swooping departure from Belfast was as swift, sudden, and poorly explained as his arrival. I, and none of my friends, heard anything of him for some years after. It has only been in the last few months that his mating call to action (“Free South London!” I remember it well!) has resounded across the internet, naming and shaming postmodernity, hyper capitalism, and tired ideology. Of Hegelian dialectics he warned, in one of his pamphlets: “when two ideologies try to bust the zeitgeist, they risk crossing streams… Don't cross the streams… It would be bad… Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light." This is sage advice. He was once just a voice in the wilderness, but that was before urban sprawl. Now he has united people across suburbs and ‘bourhoods, from Norbury to Deptford, calling for a Free South London.
If nothing else, he is an interesting chap. Some would say dynamic. Some would say dynamic is a polite word for what he is.
He and his third or fourth wife were recently in Belfast and all four of us bumped into one another at a very drunken party. We discussed the changes we had seen; those socio-economic, historico-political, anarcho-aesthetic, and Romano-Catholic. Who would have thought, ten years ago, that we in Belfast would have come further in our journey towards self-governance and cultural solidarity than that leading world capital, South London? It is not all champ and champagne, though, I told him; we have our problems too.
He arranged to interview me, as soon as he got home, for his show on the pirate station, Radio Free South London. He hoped that, outside the party setting, our conversation would be even more informative and coherent: I would be less drunk, he told me, and he would be moreso.
Radio Free South London has a ‘listen again’ function through Mr. Moneypenny’s website, here. The interview was edited because of time constraints: Mr. Moneypenny added ums, stutters, and pauses into my speech, so that it would fill the full length of the show. Perhaps, I am a little reticent, a bit unsure… maybe I am just tired; his call came through in the early morning due to the time different between Belfast and Revolutionary Metric Time. My opinions were, as always, incredibly liberal and Mr. Moneypenny was very liberal with his use of them.
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|Tuesday, June 1st, 2010|
11:03 am - Ghosts in the Woods
The lovely Mr. Andrew Croskery is soon to move to London (North or South, I’m not sure) and, to close accounts here, he wanted to put together his directorial debut. It was to be (and, by Jove! It is!) a heart-rending tale of sepia-tinged sentiment, scored by no less a composer than Mr. Chopin, and telling the story of lovers torn apart by death and self-interest amongst the beauty and beauties of our own Belfast.|
Of these beauties, debutante, Ms. Geraldine Boyle, deserves special notice as the Wife. The handsome auteur, Mr. Croskery, plays the role of Male Lead with surprising tenderness and, in textural counterpoint to the beauty of cast and locale, I, myself, took the role of Mephistopheles, giving the most sullen-eyed performance since Herr Schreck. Ms. Boyle’s mother’s wedding dress plays itself.
Filming was conducted at a leisurely pace on Sunday May 17th 2010, starting at the Balmoral cemetery, where we met Mr. McMorrow, our charming director of photography. The cemetery itself was locked, according to the logic that the swish middle-classes are too busy brunching on Sunday morning to drop a flower or knee by a loved one’s grave. We decamped, instead, to the less picturesque Milltown cemetery, where, under the auspices of the Starry Plough of the Socialist Republicans and the Blessed Virgin up a tree, we captured Mr. Croskery’s touching opening shot. Were we granted the extravagance of widescreen, you would see to the left, to the right, and all the way around, monuments to balaclava-ed men, Polish soldiers, and the hulking, incongruent orange of Sainsbury’s Falls Road branch.
Everything else was filmed, between showers, by the Lagan towpath - along the rusted pipe, follow the river, cross the bridge, through the woods, and over the stile. Ingenuity of shot allowed a single, secluded area to double for locations across space and time; for everything else, there were other places. The seclusion of our main set was much prized by others too, but clever editing cuts them out of shot. Note Ms. Boyle’s brisk, but lissom exit, beating a family of bicyclists’ approaching careen into the camera; she doesn’t break character. And not all of Mr. Croskery’s dramatic bounds were scripted. And, though filming never stopped for rain, production slowed for twenty minutes as a dog chased a duck and her ducklings energetically through the water, neither party willing to cede to exhaustion.
Unlike duck or dog, we gave in by early afternoon, but, by then, all we needed was in the can. Although, the can was too deceptively small and plastically-moulded for my liking.
It is all out of the can now and has been uploaded already to The Tales Of The… For your convenience, I may embed it here, if I can, but you must promise to visit the parent website out of politeness.
Ghost in the Woods
Well, no, that's not exactly how I wanted it.
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|Thursday, May 27th, 2010|
8:01 am - Words & Music - Three
“I want someone to make me music I can live in like a house.”|
The Cock & The Harlequin, Jean Cocteau
Most musicians, I think, would prefer to have the house. Whether or not they get it depends on enough listeners paying rent in the tower of their songs or their passing a civil service aptitude test. Either way, the songs will continue to be written, so long as there is a roof, a boxcar ceiling or a forest canopy over their heads.
The songwriter writes and, for them, the song is an end in itself, a solid collected in the crucible, after inspiration, effort or desperation have evaporated. What they do with the object afterwards is their concern: they may sell it, foist it, plug it or hide it, but their aim was always, first and foremost, to draw together the elements of the song into a demo or a record or tight live arrangement.
The listener comes to the song only when it is objectified and they cannot be blamed if they treat it as if it were a mere object, assessing it for functionality, economy and attractiveness all at once. Ideally, it will be multifunctional, so that they can drift through its many rooms as if it were a house; dancing in one place, when they need to dance; crying in another, when they need to cry. And if, as to a house, the majority of us could commit ourselves to only one song, the listener would take all these things into account and consider them more carefully, as one does when appearing on Desert Island Discs.
In Tunesmith, Mr. Jimmy Webb’s book on song writing, the author makes an analogy between building a house and composing a tune; one must consider its middle eights as vestibules and its choruses as parlours, some parts should lead you to other parts, some should only bid you welcome and sit. The structure of a song, like the structure of a building, should make worthy use of the space that it occupies. His suggestion, though, is that in crafting a song this way, its brickwork should not be visible; that, in fitting it together properly, it becomes more of a whole. But this is like looking at a house only from the outside.
This way, some songs hide their functionality better than others or there functionality is obscured by the fine craftspersonship. Still, whenever somebody begins to play a record, they seek, consciously or subconsciously, to put the record to use: to distract them, to remind them, to drown out one thing or soundtrack another. Where the songwriter began by trying to force the song into an object, the listener tries to force the object into their life. The physical realisation of the song (the record, the sheet music, the live concert) must be slotted into one’s life wherever it may fit. In reality, one cannot live in it, like one lives in a house; it is too small. At best, it can live in one’s life, standing rigidly on a shelf, if it can, or fading into memory, if it can’t.
The thing about a house is that one invests a lot into it: time, money, sacrifice. In most instances, one gives up a house in exchange for another; they are not collected together on a whim. Music seldom ever asks that much from us. M. Cocteau may have desired a single piece that would have endured his lifetime and that, in so enduring, could house his experiences and shelter them, that could hide his private moments and accommodate his communions. No single piece of music could do all this; not even all three sides of Sign O’ The Times. M. Cocteau probably hoped more for a music collection.
Pop music, as a recorded canon, became a sort of music that we can live in. Music had always functioned on a communal level, bringing people together at specific times and regulating season or ritual. But pop music, as a recorded object that could be owned by the individual, began to be organised around or to organise individual lives. Music moved from the spectacle of church and concert hall to the seclusion of the home and, finally, the trouser pocket, from public sphere to private.
But, oddly, as the musical object becomes less of a physical object, it becomes more like a house. Unconstrained by cost or space and untethered from specific plots of earth, the collection can grow astronomically, tending not to be fluid, but being, instead, extended and converted in all directions. The digital music collection is monolithic (black and shiny); it is rigid and mostly only added to, seldom diminished or demolished.
So much music is available and so easily, that it is difficult for one to get a view of music as a whole or how it may be enjoyed by the many - it is not. For most, it is easier simply to take up residence inside one’s own music collection, building outwards when one needs the space. The MP3 player is the house of which M. Cocteau spoke and it can be all too cheaply furnished with musical doodads; your playlists are its many rooms, divided up by function, aesthetic or ambiance, and you may drift through them as you please, living your life here. Even as you leave the house to go to work.
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|Tuesday, April 27th, 2010|
1:06 pm - Creep's Last Tape
The Tales Of The... anthology website is a multi-media, genre fiction doohickey, brain-birthed by Mr. Stephen Downey, Mr. Andrew Croskery, and myself, along with some notable (but here, unnoted, due to space requirements) others. The idea is no more complex than this: various creative individuals from about the place would work in one-or-two-off collaborations in genre fiction, forcing the result into whatever medium they could.|
As part of the opening narrative arc (Tales Of The Cthulhu Quarter - a pun on Belfast's Boho Cathedral Quarter), I attempted to script a short audio play. It is acted most splendidly by Mr. Croskery and sports teasing cameos from such local favourites as Mr. Costello & myself, Mr. James Downey, Ms. Ruth, & presenting Mr. Stephen Downey as the eerie noise.
It can be completely misunderstood right here.
And it good time, once The Tales Of The... has settled, I may squirrel it away in the audio section here.
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|Wednesday, April 7th, 2010|
9:33 pm - The Line Between Love And Hate
To add to nothing that I said when discussing Mr. Van Dyke Parks on Mr. Bailie's show the other evening... and originally posted over here.|
To give Mr. Mike Love credit where he has earned it (and, if others followed this example, I doubt he would have made anything from royalties in his whole career), he had the decency to ask Mr. Parks to explain his lyrics before having the latter ousted from The Beach Boys SMiLE project. It was the impressionistic tenor of the lyrics that Mr. Love objected to, claiming the conch on behalf of all those beached boys overshadowed by Mr. Brian Wilson, but legend has brought the disagreement to bear on one line, a refrain that appears towards the end of Cabinessence: “Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfields.”
ML - “What does (see above) mean?”
VDP - “I don’t know.”
The honesty of this answer seemed not to fill Mr. Love with confidence. Since the announcement of the “Teenage Symphony for G-d,” he had been hoping for some assurance, but the young lyricist was really not the person to go to. The exchange would not be the end of the SMiLE sessions, but it was the end of Mr. Parks’ initial involvement. A cool, distant animosity would continue between the pair long after, barely altering when they met at another Beach Boys session in 1992. Just enough time had passed that, as Mr. Parks recalled in a 1995 interview:
"For the first time in 30 years, he was able to ask me directly, once again, 'What do those lyrics -- Over and over the crow flies uncover the cornfield -- mean?'" (…) "And I was able to tell him, once again, 'I don't know.’”
Being, at least, as honest as Mr. Parks, I can admit that I have no idea myself.
An article posted on Mr. Parks’ website gives an interesting analysis of the line, without trying to show up its author: the assonance of over/uncover; the O sound of over and crow; the hard C of cover and cornfield; the double meaning of cries, which not only allows multiple interpretations of the word, but alters the structure of the sentence as a whole - is the hinge word a noun or a verb? The intricacies of the different poetic devices used beg the question “What does it mean?”. And it is these qualities that set it apart from other equally hard to master lines written at the time, say: “I want to watch your windblown facing/Waves of wheat for your embracing” (from the same song) or “Back through the op'ra glass you see/The pit and the pendulum drawn/Columnated ruins domino” (from Surf’s Up, from the same project).
However, the question of what it means is not so interesting as the question of why Mr. Love asked it. For, certainly, he did not blurt out the query due to intrigue alone. He inquired, again claiming to speak for all of the lads, out of concern; the Beach Boys’ success was based on singing of coups and boards and broads and dudes and all the concerns of young teen consumers, to turn away from that now, not to something more serious, but to something nonsensical, would compromise that achievement. Even the songs on Pet Sounds had been, for the most part, about love, although, perhaps, a more mature kind. And the lyric to Good Vibrations, the single that would bridge Pet Sounds and SMiLE, appears almost regressive.
Mr. Wilson had approached Mr. Parks to re-write the words to Good Vibrations during the recording sessions, as the composer was embarrassed by his then-collaborator, Mr. Love’s work: “She’s giving me excitations” being hard to comprehend in a manner distinct from the way one might struggle with “Over and over…”. Mr. Parks declined the offer, preferring not to interfere with a colleague’s completed work and explaining that no one listens to the lyrics so closely, especially when set to music like that.
Mr. Love obviously did listen that closely and seemed to think the audience would too. Thus far, The Beach Boys’ fans had been buying up songs about things with which they could identify, so the American patchwork of SMiLE, with its cornfields and columnated ruins, could only serve to alienate them.
However, Mr. Parks himself had a modicum of success writing hit singles for Harper’s Bizarre and Ms. DeShannon. And these songs (High Coin, Come to the Sunshine, etc.) were, lyrically, precursors to the purposeful motley of his work on SMiLE. It was for the vaulting wordplay in these songs that he was initially praised, although his later feelings about that work are mostly variations on bashful:
“I had taken too many drugs to make a really objective evaluation of what lyrics writing should be, but at the time I thought that lyrics could be applied to a song without reference to transitive thought, that if you put a word that sounded good on a note that that would be enough. Well, how wrong I was.”
This seems to confirm Mr. Love’s most blunt dismissal of Mr. Parks’ lyrics, that they were mere “acid alliteration.” It sets up a tasty opposition between, on one hand, the corporate moneygrabber and, on the other, the reckless hippy, even if, in reality, it was Mr. Parks who was on the payroll at Warner Brothers and Mr. Love who would soon record a Charles Manson song.
The disagreement is of its time, not because of the narcotic rhetoric of the discussion, but because of a recent change in how pop music was created (whether or not that change was fuelled by drugs is open for you to debate on your own time). Between them, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan ushered in a period where the distinction between performer and creator was broken down; the writer of the song was expected, also, to perform, orchestrate or otherwise form the product.
The two-fold process of record-making (that of first composing the song and then having it performed) became confused as the song turned into something that was written in the studio and was written through successive acts of performance, later edited, rather than being scribbled on a piece of manuscript paper. The act of composition depends upon an idea being shaped or otherwise structured, pruned to its essential components, and then handed to the performer, who, on understanding or interpreting the idea, conveys it to the audience as best they can. As the distinction between the two grew indistinct, the handing over of the idea or the need for interpretation became unnecessary: the writer already knew what they were thinking and should, in principal, being able to convey it directly.
Mr. Love’s role in Mr. Wilson’s wider vision was solely that of performer. It is understandable, then, that he would ask Mr. Parks for clarity as to what exactly he would be singing and what his singing was meant to express.
Equally, Mr. Parks, as mere collaborative composer in Mr. Wilson’s vision, understandably answered “I don’t know.” His idea was honed to its very nub in the process of writing it and, surely, no more lucid distillation of the idea could exist than the words themselves. Mr. Parks was in no position to question them, once written, than Mr. Love was when he first suggested the word “excitation.”
In the end, both parties were quite right. When Heroes & Villains, the first single from SMiLE’s replacement, Smiley Smile, was released, its churn of lyrics (“I've been in this town so long/So long to the city/I'm fit with the stuff/to ride in the rough/And sunny down stuff, I'm alright”) followed-up Good Vibrations’ awkward neologism respectably, reaching No. 12 in the US and No. 8 in the UKoGB&NI; Mr. Love’s lyrics unchecked by Mr. Parks, Mr. Parks’ lyrics unchecked by Mr. Love, and both wordsheets happily accepted by the listeners.
When the pop song comes to the listener, it is fully-formed; the ideas of the thing have been refined and they have been sharpened through performance. For most listeners that is enough, as pop music is not seen as an interpretative art, like the classical concert or a stage play, but a branch of auteurship: a definitive statement amongst a wash of definitive statements. In this sense, Mr. Parks was correct, no one really listens to the lyrics; they are just words sounded at different pitches. Let us not forget that ‘Mr. Blobby’ by Mr. Blobby and ‘Doop’ by Doop were hits both.
Mr. Love’s concern was only partially justified, because people only really pay attention to the lyrics once the music has had some effect upon them, whether they love it enough to analysis them or the piece becomes so ubiquitous that the words, simply a rote recitation, that cannot be shaken. While the consumer considers the melody, the lyrics, and the intonation of the two as a whole, it is through the lyrics, as the site of the emotional, intelligible performance, that they convey meaning and, ultimately, seek to identify themselves using the song and the singer. For who amongst us ever heard our lives reflected in a bassline?
Although it is the song - the music - that they love, it is the lyric that the listener can use to convey their own feelings, whether by shouting it aloud or scrawling it on a notebook. The fragmentary nature of the modern pop lyric comes partly from that change in the approach to song writing, that, in writing the song oneself or shaping it in the studio, it does not have to defined to a second or third party before it is recorded and released. In a moment of presumed clarity, the pop star captures themselves in a particular condition; they capture it, rather than stepping back, analysing, and trying to convey it. The listener can press their ear against it and hear fragments of the moment, which they can then use to describe and define their own. It is the motley fashion of the lyric, the blurry whole of the lyric and the music, that is most useful to the song itself, as it is hazy aesthetic of the song - be it cars and girls or simply sad and gloomy - that the listener will make use of, not a wholly sensible reading of the ideas contained within.
As the story suggests, in pop music, lyrics are the main field of discussion. The music, itself, is loved or hated, but seldom examined; few pop fans have the knowledge to do so in any depth. The words, however, are torn apart and will only survive if they can be joined back together again in infinite shapes and forms. Music journalists and critics scrutinize the lyrics with greater interest that their job title suggests they should, but, really, journalists know more about words than they do about notes and critics are paid to make distinctions: lyrics are one of the ways that we use to make distinctions between ourselves and others; how we interpret against how they interpret and what we identify with and what they identify with. The point of all lyrics, then, is to beg the question: “What do they mean?”. Especially for those where the answer is “I don’t know.”
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|Sunday, January 24th, 2010|
3:38 pm - Nerdstock
You may have missed it last night, if you went to a late vigil mass, but beebeecee 4 broadcast Robin Ince’s 9 Lessons & Carols for Godless People, a Christmas celebration of science and Christlessness, which is now available on iPlayer. Although notable for short (or heavily-edited) turns from scientists, comedians, and neither (musicians mostly), the hero of the whole event was Mr. Martin, my erstwhile collaborator, and the conductor, arranger, originator, accordionist, uke-player, and singer with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra.|
He hovers throughout, perched, counting, laughing sometimes, but waiting, always, for the chance to lead his ensemble in the beautifully-arranged ten-second riffs that lead on and off scientists, who would not otherwise ever be led on and off. The orchestra, operating as a living backdrop to all acts, look magnificent and Mr. White, at turns, authoritative and maniacal.
From our combined oeuvre, he plays the theme from The Trans-Carpathian Express, an on-going project on which we’re working, about which we can only say hush and secrecy. Also, the lead song from the lead epee, Thank-You For Not Discussing The Outside World. The song weaves and ducks around various talking heads and scientific gabblings, rendering it mostly unintelligible, but, I imagine, were it not for these strange, interspersed interviews, the song would not have made the edit at all. Thank you, talking heads, for being so voluble. And thank you, beebeecee, for feeling the show needed to be justified thus.
It will be there all week. And don’t forget to tip your waitress.
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