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I've been listening to some really early Dylan.

Blowing in the Wind has been sung into rags by all those pretty-pretty Peter Paul and Mary types, but Masters of War is as ugly and ornery as it ever was. Wouldn't it be cool if we could surround the White House with speakers and blast out Masters of War on a loop until the present occupant went away?

I guess there's some piffling little law or other that would stop us from doing that. Phooey!
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I put on my CD of high class carols- sung in German no less.

"Depressing." says Joe.

"What? Silent Night depressing? Go drink some beer..."

Silent Night was what the German soldiers were singing on Christmas Eve 1914. The British soldiers joined in and soon enough they were lobbing tinned food from trench to trench and shouting out "Merry Christmas, Fritz", "Merry Christmas, Tommy". Then someone got up his courage and walked out into No Man's Land and someone from the other side met him halfway and after that for the whole of that Christmas Day there was fraternising and beer-drinking and football the length of the Western Front. And the High Command got into a terrible strop and threatened to shoot anybody who didn't return to the trenches to be shot.... So the unofficial truce came to an end and the war went on for another four years.

What's up next?

"O Tannenbaum" aka the Red Flag.

The Bolshevik irregulars stormed the Winter Palace....

So what's this anyway- the 20th century's bloodiest hits?

How about a nice Basque lullaby to put us in mind of Guernica?

I switch the CD player off and go watch Ant and Dec.
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I like Elton John. Always have done. Even at his glammest, silliest, most diamante-studded-bespectacled. I think he's a brave little tyke. I think he rings true.

And now he's become historically significant by becoming the first famous person to enter into a same-sex marriage under the new rules.

Well done him!


Dec. 18th, 2005 09:09 am
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I just bought the new(ish), Yoko-approved, Lennon compilation, Working Class Hero. I already own the last, Yoko-approved, Lennon Compilation, Lennon:Legend, but, hey, this new(ish) one has 18 extra tracks and they were selling it at a knock-down price.

I can't shake off my addiction to Lennon. Believe me, I've tried. I've told myself he was a nasty, wife-beating, millionaire hypocrite and, besides, Macca wrote all the best tunes so who needs him? but sooner or later my resolve buckles and I creep back for another fix of Jealous Guy or Nobody Told Me or God. Sooooo many good songs!

I know this is heresy, but I think Lennon came into his own after the Beatles split up. The Beatles was McCartney's band- and Lennon was never entirely at ease working in McCartney's shadow.

In a recent poll Imagine was simultaneously voted the best and the worst song of all time. That has to tell you something. Imagine is the Mona Lisa of popular music.

Which makes Lennon the pop da Vinci.
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Classical opera speaks a strange language.

If the soprano is doing lots of trill-embellished vocal gymnastics it doesn't mean she's a shallow drama-queen but that she's in the grip of some deep and disturbing emotion and I should be paying her close attention and not waiting for her to shut up so something more interesting can happen.

And if the baritone sings something simple and pretty, it doesn't mean that he's Mother Nature's Son; it means he's a heartless cheat.

Complexity = sincerity: simplicity = duplicity. It's a formulation that goes clean against my mid-20th century instincts.

We watched the Joe Losey film of Don Giovanni yesterday. This is Mozart made easy. If the piggy little romantic hero spends too long over his aria I can tune him out and enjoy the Palladian architecture instead.

This is Don Octavio I'm talking about. I don't know who the singer was, but he looked like Ernie Wise.

Otherwise the casting is splendid. Raimondo Ruggieri has eyes that shine in the dark. Kiri ti Kanawa is wonderfully demented as the madwoman in the attic.

My favourite character is the hermaphroditic page who acts as Don Giovanni's shadow. Yes, I know, s/he's not in the script. Dare I say that what I liked best about her/him is that s/he keeps her mouth shut?

Gorgeous music. Gorgeous and mostly over my head.

Like being confronted with a wall-full of hieroglyphics.

Idiot Wind

Oct. 16th, 2005 11:30 am
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Thanks to that Scorsese film I'm immersing myself in Dylan right now. I picked up the new Autobiography, Chronicles I, at the supermarket for some perfectly silly price and it's a good read. If you were ever tempted to think the guy was a phoney, as I have been, then this'll set you straight. OK, he's been a jerk. W.B. Yeats was a jerk. Picasso was a jerk. The greatest artists often are.

You gotta beware of them. They're not like other men. They're the guys with a tight connection to history. Everywhere they go its all flashing bronze and the shrieking of eagles. Anything they touch turns to myth.

More Dylan

Sep. 28th, 2005 11:33 am
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The second part of the Dylan film has great footage of him talking to the press. The reporters are asking stupid and/or pompous questions and he's swatting them away like flies, mainly saying "no" or turning the question back on the questioner, but it's all good humoured and he's giggling at the inanity and some of the press people are laughing right along. I guess what we're seeing here is the birth of celebrity culture.

The film ends with the incident on the English tour where some protesting folkie in the audience shouts "Judas" and he replies "You're a liar; I don't believe you-" then turns to The Band and tells them to "play it fucking loud." That happened here- in Manchester's Free Trade Hall (now a hotel.) Epic stuff.
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Scorsese's documentary about Dylan's youth has taken me back to my own "bliss was it in that dawn to be alive" moment. It's 1968, there are mountains outside the window and me and Graham Leader and Marc de May are going to change the world tomorrow, but today, in preparation, we're about to lean back, shut our eyes and listen to John Wesley Hardin just one more time...

Mind you, I didn't get it. Still don't. John Wesley Harding, I mean.

I have a rocky relationship with Dylan. I've always wanted to like him more than I actually do. I think the early stuff is dated and the "poetry" often facile- and yet scattered throughout his career, right up to the present, are songs I love. My very favourite is a thing called Dark Eyes which comes off a mid-80s album which many of the critics rate as his worst ever....

The second part of Scorsese's film is showing tonight. I'll be there.


Sep. 14th, 2005 09:57 am
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Paul McCartney has a new album coming out. We're being told that this is the one where he reinvents himself. It's dark and it's searching and the best thing he's done since Abbey Rd. Jolly good. Sir Paul reinvents himself at least once a decade, issues the groundbreaking new album, garners some TV coverage and everyone is very happy for him and plased to see that boyish mug of his again and then the groundbreaking new album joins all his other groundbreaking new albums in unplayed obscurity.

But maybe this is really the one. I hope so. I've been waiting 35 years for Sir Paul's genius to arise and shake itself and astonish us once more.

I know it's mildly heretical to say so, but Paul was the creative
motor of the Beatles. I'm not saying John wasn't a genius (because he was) but if it had been left to him he'd have sat in his Surrey mansion all day long watching TV and once in a blue moon he's have gone into the studio to record something he'd scribbled down on the back of an envelope during the commercial breaks. Paul was the ambitious, motivated one. The experimental projects- Sergeant Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour- were things he set up. He was the one who wanted to go back on the road. In fact I've just formulated a new theory
as to why the Beatles broke up. It's because the other three were lazy bastards and Paul drove them too hard.

I keep meaning to explore Paul's post-Beatles oeuvre but there's just so much of it and I don't know where to start. I assume that his work since 1970 has been inferior, but I don't know for sure because (like you and you and you) I've never sat down and listened to it. I know Mull of Kintyre and the Frog Song and one or two other bits and pieces and that's it. So maybe we've got him wrong. Maybe it's us- his audience- soured by the break-up of the Beatles- who have written him off prematurely- and the work has been amazing all along.

Wouldn't it be fun if this were so?

Seven Songs

Sep. 9th, 2005 12:59 pm
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[livejournal.com profile] mumm tagged me to list my seven favourite songs.


If I were really honest the list would look like this....

1. Wouldn't it be Lovely- Lerner and Lowe
2. The Street where you Live- Lerner and Lowe
3. I'm Getting Married in the Morning- Lerner and Lowe.
4. O Susanna- Stephen Foster.
5 My Old Kentucky Home- Stephen Foster
6 Greensleeves- Anon
7. London Pride- Noel Coward

...because these are the sort of songs I (attempt to) sing in the shower.

Or else it would consist entirely of medieval songs and traditional folk-songs- because that's what I mainly listen to.

But I suppose I should play by the implied rules and so the list is going to wind up looking like this.

1. Hey Jude- The Beatles
2. Waterloo Sunset- The Kinks
3. The River- Bruce Springsteen
4. Love Will Tear Us Apart- Joy Division
5. Tender- Blur
6. Not Dark Yet- Dylan
7. All these Things That I've Done- The Killers.

I'm not going to tag any of you guys, but if you want to take up the challenge, feel free.
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The Stones have a new album out and the critics are saying it's their best for 25 years.


Or is it just that the wheel has turned full circle?

I've been expecting this for a while. It's a rule of popular fame that everything comes back into favour eventually.

Keep at it long enough and- no matter how humiliating the middle years- you will eventually be acclaimed as a veteran.

I was reading the other day about how hip Donovan is. Donovan? Yup, Donovan.

The Stones have been a joke for the last twenty, thirty years (not that it ever hit them in their fanbase or their pockets) but they have continued, they have persevered, they have stuck to their guns and finally it's paid off. Last year they were ridiculous old roues grooving to the rhythms of their youth and this year they are keepers of the flame and an example to us all.
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I always disliked Sinatra, even as a kid. It wasn't because he performed my parents' music- I liked Bing Crosby and Doris Day well enough- no, there was always something about Frank that uniquely turned me off. The sleazy, twilit, hung-over world his music evoked was a place I just didn't want to visit. It sounded- OK, I know it's melodramatic, but I can't think of a more apposite word- it sounded evil.

Now I understand. If Frank's music sounded evil it was because Frank himself was an evil man. The guy wasn't just friendly with the Mob, he was owned by them, acting as front man for their businesses, carrying their money in his private jet. Last night's TV documentary- Sinatra, Dark Star- gave us the dots and tittles.

Maybe he never actually pulled the trigger on anybody, but there are plenty of stories to suggest that he made full use of his wise-guy contacts. Jackie Mason once got his hotel room sprayed with bullets after being told not to tell any more jokes about Frank and Mia. And then there are rumours about a cop whose wife Frank was schtupping who got killed when his car came off the road in mysterious circumstances. Most famously, there's the story,lightly fictionalised in the Godfather, about how Frank landed the part of Maggio in From Here To Eternity after the Mob's man in Hollywood had a quiet word with Harry Cohn.

At the heart of the documentary was an account of the time Frank acted as intermediary between his pal Sam Giancana, Mob boss of Chicago and his other pal, Jack Kennedy. Frank brokered a deal and Sam kept his side of it by delivering the Illinois vote. Once in power Kennedy ratted on Sam, appointing his brother Robert Attorney General, with a brief to go after the Mob. Sam blamed Frank and took a contract out on his life. The film director Murray Shavelson told how he went to Sinatra's hotel to discuss a movie, only to find the lobby full of heavies and Sinatra locked in his room refusing to see anyone. Outside the hotel door was a dish that had been sent up from the kitchen. Shavelson lifted the lid and inside was a lamb's head, shaved- the Mob equivalent of the Black Spot.

I don't get the glamour of the Mob. Or, by extension, the glamour of Sinatra's Rat Pack. That culture of shiny-eyed men in tuxedos, of money, fear and blow-jobs. It has no soul. If there's a Hell- and I don't suppose there is- I can imagine it being a whole lot like Vegas in the 50s.
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A lot of people have been pointing out how few black stars there were on stage at Live 8, but how all the white stars came equipped with black backing singers and musicians.

An image comes to mind- Henry Morton Stanley in his pith helmet with an elephant gun under his arm, fording some pest-infested African river with a long line of native bearers behind him.

As a last minute adjustment a concert involving African artists was laid on to run simultaneously with Live 8- at the Eden Project in Cornwall- about as far from London as one can get without dropping off into the sea. This seemed perilously close to adding insult to injury.

No-one involved in Live 8 is a racist, but the picture we were presented with- honkies in the spotlight, black folk someplace else- said a whole lot about how ingrainedly, unthinkingly racist our society still is.

Live 8

Jul. 3rd, 2005 10:11 am
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For the first part of the afternoon I was switching channels between Wimbledon and Hyde Park. After Venus's victory I stayed with the concert until its midnight close.

Sting said the obvious thing about the world being "a global village". At least it used to be the obvious thing but what with the "war on terror" and all that we seem to have lost sight of it recently.

Maybe this has put us back on track.

Madonna's set was amazing. I liked Razorlight and the Killers. The reunited Pink Floyd reminded me why I didn't pay them any attention last time round. After they'd been on stage for five minutes I reached for a magazine.

The Who are noisy buggers aren't they?

But Sir Macca is still the greatest.

La, la, la,
Hey Jude.......

And now it's over to those 8 ageing males who'll be meeting at Gleneagles next week. As Sting put it in an adaption of his most famous song (with pictures of their 8 ugly mugs on the screen behind him) "we'll be watching you...."
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BBC3 has been relaying concerts from the Glastonbury festival. Last night they gave us Brian Wilson's gig. Yes, you heard right- Brian Wilson. The Beach Boys' mentally fragile, drug addled infant genius was up on stage with a great backing band belting out the classics. He's in his 60s, paunchy and had to do most of the set sitting down; his voice is weak, he can't reach the high notes but-wotthehell- this is only slightly less sensational than the raising of Lazarus.

Michael Moorcock says of the Beatles that they're "the poets of paradise"- well so they are- but so are the Beach Boys. Fun, Fun Fun, Barbara Ann, Good Vibrations- these are the happiest, most beatific songs of any generation.
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I switch on the TV just in time to catch footage of Wings performing Mull of Kintyre on the Mike Yarwood Show.

Linda is sitting bolt upright on a high stool between Paul and Denny, looking gravely from one to the other as they strum their guitars and sing. The poor girl doesn't even have a tambourine to shake.

The studio fills with mist. When it clears the trio are surrounded by bagpipers in kilts and bearskins.

La la la la
Mull of Kintyre
La la la la
Mull of Kintyre.

Say what you like it's a lovely tune.

Wings fade out and next up are Boney M singing Ra Ra Rasputine.

What a sweet and silly decade.
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It's a good long while since I last watched Top of the Pops. Sometime in the late 90s- when every other act was a boy band- it finally dawned on me that middle-aged blokes were not the target audience.

Up until then I had tried to keep abreast with what was going on. I may not have liked the music, but I wanted to know what people were buying. I'm a keen cultural observer, me I am.

(The last new artist I really liked was Eminem. I thought he was funny.)

But last night, Ailz was fooling around with the control and suddenly there we were on Top of the Pops and there we stayed. The Black Eyed Peas were on stage- all tricked out in in Andy Pandy costumes like something from the 70s. I liked the song. Peter Gabriel used to dress up as a dhalia, but he too was a serious musician.

Then we had some good looking chap singing something ballady. Good looking ballady chaps have always made me feel queasy. But I didn't say anything, because Ailz was enjoying him.

Then came the Back Street Boys (bleeeagh) and then came the count-down to Number One. So who would it be this week- Some boy band, some crotch fiddling hip-hopper, some ballardy chap?

No, by gum, it was Oasis!

But Oasis are finished aren't they?

Apparently not. This new song is exactly like every other Oasis song- a Beatley melody played in the style of the Who- but well, it has character. Oasis are hugely derivative but their sound is unmistakably their own. And if that reads like a contradiction I can't help it. The truth is rarely simple.

Anyway, I like them. They're naff but they're naff in a good way. And I'm so glad they're at number one. It's a reminder of the unpredictability and sheer, downright cussedness of the universe.

Because if Oasis can have a number one single in 2005 then anything is possible!
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I expected LJ to be full of stuff about the Jackson trial and it isn't. At least this corner of the LJ universe isn't. I wonder why.

My reason for steering clear (until now) is the difficulty of writing about it with dispassion. Jackson has been getting me all stirred up for decades now. Love the music (some of it.) Hate the preening and self-deception.

I wish I didn't care, but I do. There was a moment- a very brief moment- when Jackson was not only the greatest singer and dancer in the world, but also the most beautiful human being. Bille Jean. That's a fabulous song. And Michael is a vision, a visitation, an otherworldly androgyne, a god.

And then....

And then the decline, sinking deeper and deeper into freakishness, into Messianic fantasy, into a candy-coloured porno-heaven. It's been like watching a self-exiled Caesar go to the dogs.

Tiberius on Capri- all alone with his flatterers and pimps.

Yesterday, he turned up at the courthouse an hour late in his pyjamas and nearly got his bail rescinded. He doesn't seem to realise how serious this is. It's as if there's no-one in his entourage with the balls to tell him, "Er, Michael, you're not actually writing the script any more."
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I wish I liked Rogers and Hammerstein more. Oscar Hammerstein was obviously such a nice man. But it's the music- it's so smooth and sweet. Listening to one of their scores is like bathing in milk chocolate.

So if I can't take R&H, how am I to explain my love of My Fair Lady? Maybe it's just an Audrey Hepburn thing.

Audrey Hepburn + Rex Harrison + Stanley Holloway + Cecil Beaton + George Bernard Shaw. OK, the songs are chocolately, but it's bitter chocolate. One thing you don't get in Hammerstein's work is wit.
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I don't like musicals, but I'm loving Channel 4's history of Broadway.

Maybe what I mean when I say I don't like musicals is that I can't stomach Rogers and Hammerstein.

Or Andrew Lloyd Webber.

It's something to do with cosiness.

But Cole Porter and George Gershwin and Irving Berlin and Yip Harburg and Ethel Merman and Ethel Waters and Fred Astaire ain't cosy. No siree!

Those songs from the twenties and thirties have a Deco stylishness, a chromium shine. They shimmy and they glitter and they shake their collective ass. The moon is their mama. She smiles from an spangly sky.

Indulgence and effulgence.

My generation (or the one just before) carries on like it invented popular music. Well, nuts to that! I'm not saying that the Beatles aren't good, but there's no way they're better than the chaps I've listed above.

And let's not forget Noel Coward. He doesn't get into the picture because he's a Brit, but I love him dearly.

And let's not forget Kurt Weill.


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