Monday, January 29, 2007

outraged aesthete (slight return)

...the ballet is positively gauche this season ...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Five Things About Wonderful Me

you want some?

I've been passed the Black Spot courtesy of Doppleganger, so have to think of five interesting things about my lowly, miserable existence. Hmm, maybe I'll just invent things in a futile attempt to make myself look terribly mysterious and interesting. No, I am gripped by a lemming-like urge towards total honesty ...

1) I do, as said elsewhere , believe in my absolutely encyclopediac knowledge as regards pop music, movies, literature, philosophy, world politics ... exactly the kind of infuriating poseur that really, really drives me to distraction. But then I very often find arrogance and pretension incredibly funny if presented with a modicum of self-awareness and irony. He said, self-justifyingly.

2) I have thought about death and dying every single day since I was around four years old.

3) I am an incurable hypochondriac ... Molly Bloom informed me only yesterday that, during the time she's known me, I have believed myself to have a brain tumour, testicular cancer, lung cancer, spina bifida, ME, MS, TB, motor neurone disease, thrombosis, kidney stones, neuralgia, sciatica and several congenital anomalies I won't go into here. Furthermore, I am one of those even more annoying hypochondriacs too lazy to phone the doctor. I should add an apology to anyone who has personally (or have/had a loved one who has) suffered any of these ailments. I have no defence, other than my neuroses.

4) I suffer from excruciating, crippling shyness and self-consciousness which, over the years, I have compensated for by the aforementioned arrogance. In fact, so ingrained has the arrogance and self-belief become I can't actually remember a time or a persona without it. But, since I am so wonderful, why the hell would I?

5) I've mentioned this before ... is that bad form? No matter ... when I was three, I bit my tongue in half. Fell over, tongue between teeth, bit straight in half. The parents rushed me to hospital and then had to turn around and go straight back to pick up the half-tongue from the garden path ... whereupon the surgeons were able to stitch it back together (assembled cries of "boo!", "poor play, that man!" and "quick, rip it back off!" fill the air).
Family legend has it that I never really spoke until after the accident ... so it's my theory that, get this for a load of reheated old cod-Lacanian bollocks, it took a deeply traumatic experience to forcibly inscribe me into the social order, into the field of language.
Or perhaps I had nothing of interest to say until I fell over and bit my tongue in half.

Right, that's me done ... now, I shall pass the poisoned chalice on. His mission, should he chose to accept it, will be for Doc A., of Murmurists fame to give us five facts about himself.

It's rather like being on the analyst's couch, this.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Phil Collins - His Part In My Downfall

Some are damned and some are unconditionally elected - and those happily of the latter can do anything they want and get away with it ... steep themselves in sin, walk among the afflicted, sink as low as they wish and come out the other end smelling of roses. When one is in a state of Grace, the book is already written.
University, circa 1994 ... I had only been going out with the missus-to-be a month or two when one of those relationship-defining moments arose - while browsing through the vinyl in a charity shop, I saw a 7" sleeve graced with a picture of Tony Hancock, the lad himself. I picked it up and found, to my horror, it was a Phil Collins single, 'Something Happened On The Way To Heaven'. On reflection, I remembered I had heard the song on the radio a number of times over the years and had actually liked it ... what to do? It was 5p, if memory serves ... who could quibble?
Subsequently, I would become an object of ridicule - amongst my limited social set, which was bad enough, but worse, to my girlfriend, too. Being in possession of a Phil Collins record was a social liability somewhere beyond galloping halitosis ... people have asked me to leave their house for less.

I offered then a variety of defences, which I shall rehearse here ... not the least important being the fact that, as her beau, it was the girlfriend's duty to offer support to anything I did; loyalty is a cardinal virtue and, no matter how stupid, objectionable or downright ludicrous my actions, even in, especially in, public, it was her duty to regard my every word as Holy Writ and maintain that I could walk on water.
I appealed to no less an authority than James Joyce ... as he has Stephen Dedalus say: a man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.
Furthermore, Phil Collins, for all his manifest drawbacks, had, at least, graced the records of Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, officially 'The Brainiest Men In Pop Music', and therefore never wrong. Look here, if it's good enough for Bob and Bri, it's good enough for me.
Further furthermore, this was not part of that spectrum of behaviour now deemed "guilty pleasures" ... despite despising Mr Collins, I genuinely liked this particular song ... something about the tune seemed quietly moving, something about the lyrics (How can something so right go so wrong? ... I'm not leaving unless you come with me) I found rather poignant. Indeed, not to buy the record (only 5p!) out of some misplaced and inverse snobbery would be hypocritical. The song itself, no matter written by a Thatcher-loving, Tory-supporting dwarf with a face like a potato, had something about it I liked. As I appealed to the jury, as a wise old man once said (it was Duke Ellington to Miles Davis, actually): "if it sounds good, it is good."
In parenthesis, the promo video for the single is a kitsch classic in its own right ... good old Phil sings, conducts the band, tickles the ivories and indulges in some 'comic' play with a lovable mutt - including sequences shot from the pooch's eye view, thus joining a small, select genre populated by the likes of The Hills Have Eyes II ... Collins goes one better than Craven by including a canine fantasy sequence and gets some low comic mileage out of someone stepping in dog shit ... how excellent is that?
But most importantly, I had impeccable avant garde credentials, right across the aesthetic board ... not just unassailable taste in literature and film, but music? I wrote the goddamned book, mate ... I had a room bursting with Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman records, I had been listening to the Velvets since I was ten years old, I listened to Metal Machine Music for pleasure, I knew my way around Krautrock, I liked Steve Reich and Terry Riley, I used to listen to Coltrane's Ascension while eating breakfast (oh no, wait a minute ... that was Lester Bangs) ... anyway, you get the picture. I knew what was what, musically speaking ... if I say it sounds good, by Jove, it must be good. I had form, credibility, great taste ... a man to be trusted, in short. And they were mocking me? Ingrates, one and all.

But we overcome, we move on ... I rested, secure in the knowledge that I knew my musical onions, and time, tide and the Rolling Stone Book Of Rock would prove me right ... and eventually the opprobrium attached to my name faded away, to be replaced by a new and hard-won respect.
Wish I still had that single, actually ...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Joycean Way / Proust's Wake

Three stills from Joycean Way / Proust's Wake, a film by, well, me actually.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Outraged Aesthete

Outraged aesthete

observes street furniture

like a patient etherised upon a table.
Street furniture wins.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

You Watch Me Walk Away ... Taraa .. Taraa ...

I wanted to say something else, something more, about Roxy Music, the people involved, the milieu they moved in and through. In life, in art, there is, always, something else, something more, to say. There remains, always, something unsaid.

I have a passion for a particular area of pop - not a genre in itself, perhaps not an identifiable sound ... something akin to an approach, a techne, a way of looking at and listening to things ... I call it (do forgive me the vulgarism) posh blokes who (avant)rock. Public school types ending up at art college and getting into music ... terribly civilised English chaps throwing off the shackles of their upbringing to plunge into art rock. Roxy, of course (not withstanding Ferry's working class Newcastle roots ... hasn't he reinvented himself all too successfully as an upper class twit?), King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Wire ... no one can (colloquially speaking) rock out in an avant garde manner quite like an English toff.
A conceptual rather than instinctive or 'authentic' approach to music, an interest in other media such as literature, film or the visual arts, a willingness to embrace experimentation, a lyrical approach beyond rock's usual scope ... all of these are typical of the work produced. I think English people have (or had ... now we're nothing more than a minor state of the Union) a very productive conceptual distance from the idea of 'rock'n'roll' ... we don't, thank God, have an innate predisposition to 'boogie' ... leave that to the Yanks (notwithstanding such luminaries as Pere Ubu or Talking Heads).

Bryan Ferry, God bless him, almost single-handed, kick started the Seventies ... the Biba gloss, the Futurist-retro kick, the congruence between advertising and the avant garde, the determined collages of eras (was that made four decades or four minutes ago?), the uses of irony and quotation, the idea that glamour wasn't a dirty word, the Modernist obsession with detail and design, process and product. He had been schooled by Richard Hamilton, he dug Otis, the Velvets and a well-cut suit ... he knew what was what.

Richard Hell, a man of acute (if intermittent) discernment, during his first visit to our little island, advised all the fledgling punks to listen to the first two Roxy Music albums. Not many agreed ... irony, sex and glamour were out of fashion and punk, even then, was in the process of codifying itself into a rigid and intolerant set of prescriptions. The loss was theirs. Certainly, though, the people in at the inception of punk had had their ears opened to this music ... John Lydon, I'd say; I would be willing to bet Howard Devoto had a Roxy album or two at home; the men of Wire ditto; the loose group of friends and hangers-on known as the Bromley Contingent had been firm Roxy and Bowie fans; contrary to the Stalinist stricture that the only music, pre-punk, that mattered was the Velvets/Stooges/Dolls triumvirate, a whole raft of interesting sound had fed into what would be reduced to 'punk rock' -
Peter Hammill, dub, grownup glam,
Kevin Coyne, Roxy, Neu! and Can.
It is poetry ... and the music was poetry.

The role of the saxophone in pop .... it has been the best of sounds, the worst of sounds. The brazen stupidity of smoochy or yakety yak ... the idiot drift of 'Baker Street', the crassness of a Spandau Ballet or a George Michael, a million aural lobotomies from America ... truly, the saxophone has been responsible for some of the most pointless moments in pop history. I am thinking of an alternative reading - the King Curtis meets Steve Reich swoop of Roxy's Andy Mackay; the atonal/melodic electronic treatments and fractal improvs of Van Der Graaf's David Jackson; Bowie's wonderful, underrated sax-playing, the beautiful avant pop sound he gets on Pin Ups ('Sorrow', it's quite lovely), the keening bridge between 'Candidate' and the reprise of 'Sweet Thing', the motorik of 'V-2 Schneider'; Mel Collins' work for King Crimson; Elton Dean's playing for Soft Machine; the iconic baritone solo at the end of 'Walk On The Wild Side' by Bowie's old sax tutor,Ronnie Ross; Ted Milton's and James Chance's free jazz screeches; Lora Logic's raw squalls in early X-Ray Spex. There is a case for the saxophone as the great hidden secret of rock.

The visual lingua franca of rock, in the early Seventies as now, has never progressed much beyond the template laid down by the Rolling Stones ... all bad shirts and leather trousers, the classic snake-hipped cock rock lead singer and the crow-haired guitarist, the hoary old Mick'n'Keef act ... when I was a kid (then as now), that meant nothing to me. I believe I've mentioned my Andy Mackay fixation ... that, to me, is what a rock star looked like; the silver and white jumpsuit and multi-coloured quiff he models on the inner sleeve of For Your Pleasure, his drape jackets and platforms, a Clockwork Orange vision of a Teddy Boy; Bowie in the publicity shots for Pin Ups, cradling a sax, and that beautiful suit (bum-freezer jacket and all), his bright red Ziggy/Aladdin/Diamond Dogs haircut and black nail varnish; Eno looking less glam than convincingly alien, all long hair, balding pate, feathers, lurex and mascara; Lou Reed's brief glitter phase, an almost pre-Raphaelite vision ... stars were stars in those days, pop was coming over all polymorphous perverse and glamour and flash and intelligence weren't mutually exclusive.
Pop music invokes Proustian moments, fugitive glimpses of seconds that measure out a lifetime.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Sphinx and Mona Lisa, Lolita and Guernica ...

Tired of the tango? Fed up with fandango? Why not take a trip to future past and clean out your synapses with some of the sharpest pop music ever made? I give you Roxy Music - a love song about a blow-up doll that could have been written by J.G. Ballard ( "I blew up your body/But you blew my mind"); a new dance that promises "A danceable solution/To teenage revolution"; ten minute free jazz and Krautrock workouts; hypersmart hit singles ... this band had an almost indecent array of talents. Some fool once wrote that The Doors were the first rock band that could read and write ... so, so wrong. If The Velvet Underground were the first such band, Roxy were certainly the second. I had an older brother, a Bowie obsessive, with a sideline in Roxy and Reed ... this stuff turned my head around and upside down at a young age. There's a picture of Bryan Ferry in his late teens, white suit and quiff ... this is the mid 60s; his heroes were Otis Redding and Marcel Duchamp (subsequent song and album titles would reference Duchamp and Richard Hamilton, among others). While Bowie was still a bepermed hippy troubadour, all flared denim and acne, Ferry was immaculate ... indeed Roxy were formulating their unique sound while Bowie was still bothering with sad folk and Tin Pan Alley ... it's too damn easy to take Roxy for granted these days ... they were, at the time, the best thing I'd ever seen or heard. Ferry, the ringmaster and song writer; Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay, guitars and saxophones,experimental music buffs; Eno, the conceptualist and technician.
When I was young, being the sax player with Roxy Music seemed the best job in the world ... you got to sport a green quiff and were paid to wear fabulous clothes and duckwalk on stage, you got to hang out with Bowie and Mott The Hoople and beautiful women ... your life was unimaginably glamourous, witty and amusing.
Noel Coward and Terry Riley jamming with The Velvet Underground; music as hard as anything being produced by the heavy rockers; 20s and 30s crooning, doo wop and 50s rock'n'roll, prog and art rock; avant classical and glam pop; literate, arch, multi-layered lyrics and complex arrangements ... often all within the space of a single song.
Roxy Music had everything I look for in pop - they had wit, intelligence, humour, irony, cynicism, glamour, danger, sex; they were pop and avant garde simultaneously; they were retro and futuristic, they were science fiction; they were cruel, they were heartless in the best sense.
No one before or since looked or sounded like Roxy - a singer in tiger print or tuxedo, sporting a louche quiff; a balding ostrich-feathered androgyne teasing an unearthly range of sounds from his synths and tapes; a 23rd century Teddy Boy playing sax like King Curtis, oh and that very unrock'n'roll instrument, the oboe; a guitarist in insect shades playing experimental, psychedelic, prepunk riffs and white noise. They were beloved of both glamkids and grown ups. They had, I repeat, everything.
They stood out from the dandruff and denim morass of early seventies rock music like a diamond in a mud bath. Roxy were disliked, they weren't trusted ... there was a sneaking suspicion that they hadn't paid their dues, as if that counted for anything. Roxy's first public performances were at art gallery soirees, they had a management and record company prepared to sink a fortune into fine-tuning the band before they ever appeared live. Instead of spending years in a transit van playing the less salubrious venues of the gig scene, Ferry decided to start at the top - this alone made them a target for the puritans and fundamentalists of the music industry. Spurious notions of authenticity were to be disregarded, Roxy valued distance - even the love songs contained a shard of ice in the heart.
(And yet, and yet ... take '2 H.B.', a lovely punning play on words, a paean to romance and Humphrey Bogart - the way that "fade away never" drifts off, the poignancy of the keyboards ... it can bring tears to the eyes ... I tried to describe it to my wife recently and had to stop, a lump in my throat. Actually, I was nine years old the year the debut album was released (16th June, Bloomsday, 1972 ... a pleasingly Joycean congruence) and that song and the rest of the lyrics struck me as wonderfully clever ... I have experienced three decades since then of heavy literary and academic reading and art appreciation ... I've read Finnegans Wake five times, and do you know what? That song still strikes me as pretty damn clever).

Of course, something so precious was fated not to last ... tensions between Ferry and Eno couldn't be contained; as Ferry suggested at the time, two non-musicians in the band was one too many.
Rumours that Eno left to take up the role of Riff-Raff in a second-rate production of 'The Rocky Horror Show' touring the provinces are cruel and unfounded.
Ferry subsequently began to inhabit his lounge lizard persona a little too diligently; the tuxedo had become a straitjacket - what was once presented with wit and distance began to seem increasingly humourless and restrictive.
The Roxy purist will consider only the first five albums , the pre-split ones, as truly part of the cannon; indeed, the purist's purist will accept only the first two as the genuine article ... post-Eno, the band began to lose something of that experimental edge that had made them so significant in the first place. Let me be clear, there are some very great moments on the next three ... some of the best music of the seventies can be found there. And, indeed, there are some fine songs on the albums made after the 1979 reunion. But what might they have done had Eno remained with the band? It's one of the great pop imponderables, second only to what could the Velvet Underground have accomplished had Cale remained ... well, one can but dream ... just imagine the third Roxy album with Eno still on board ... it would have been stupendous, thrilling, so, so glamourous.

Monday, January 01, 2007

No Glot ... C'lom Friday

I hate to see the evening sun go down
Show you something
I hate to see the evening sun go down
You got the sickness?
You is coming right wouldn't you?
Copulation precincts the
Galaxies sniggered
Dinner of dead languages
Come alive screaming
See the Cut-Up Kid never returns
In life in death nuclear winds
Of St Louis and Johnny's
So long at the fair

Compass of cold stars
We landed Lake Huron 1920s
The subway swept past
Black blast of iron
Over the hills and far away
Old Bill Smiled