bob and..

It could only happen in America. I can just picture hundreds of thousands of psychedelic beach chairs, picnic hampers and parasols spread out on the ‘Empire polo field’ (that famous rock’n’roll venue…) as Bob Dylan, the Stones, Paul McCartney, The Who, Roger Waters and Neil Young perform at a mega-gig in Indio, California this October.

The organisers of Coachella festival have persuaded these fading legends with more wrinkles between them than the Grand Canyon to unite for a three day mega-gig, for an estimated fee of £1000,000 per act.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with celebrating music history, but old legends banding together like this for a quick buck underlines the rift that exists between the older generation and today’s talented musicians. Now that record companies don’t put time and money into developing new artists, musicians are swept up and down on waves of hype, easily disappearing without trace if they don’t make quick returns. If they do get noticed, will their fans actually buy their music or simply play it on youtube, or Spotify where the royalty rates for artists are so pathetic?

This gig will be another easy earner for already-rich performers whose careers blossomed during a ‘golden era’ of huge record sales and music industry largesse. Their generation still have a dependable audience – many of whom are well off enough to afford what are sure to be obscene ticket prices.

It will be like a psychedelic Glyndebourne, glasses raised to the spirits of the past, without the risk of any new blood to spoil the orgy of nostalgia.

This is just another reminder that the music industry is dead on its feet. With no new acts being developed, where are the future elder-statesmen and women waiting in the wings? And there’s another point –  this assemblage of musos is the last gathering of the original rock brotherhood, time-travellers from an era when virtually the only important musicians were male. How dated that looks now.

Don’t they feel uncomfortable turning the stage into a retirement home without any sort of organic connection to what is going on in today? An event like this could easily have included some support acts, I would have thought Neil Young might feel this, or Pete Townsend, or indeed Jagger – who always likes to appear aware of what goes on outside his bubble, at least.

It’s great when old-timers headline Glastonbury; often they can whip the asses of their younger comrades in terms of stagecraft. But sealing themselves off like this is unhealthy. It stinks of greed, complacency and theme-park culture.

You can call him Al…

In the seventies there was a slew of tracks that blended folky balladry and rock textures and, although not neccesarily sounding like Dylan, they were clearly in debt to his epic style of songwriting. A long and winding melody would be combined with tasteful instrumentation and cryptic, poetic lyrics that were sometimes comprehensible, sometimes not.

Typical examples include American Pie, Hotel California and Sultans of Swing, and at the louder end Born To Run, Stairway To Heaven and Bat Out of Hell. The long-form song was nurtured by the album culture but these tracks were also catchy as hell and often big hit singles – that fact that I don’t need to mention the artists here attests to their iconic status the songs achieved in their own right.

Here’s a gentler example of the species – Al Stewart’s Year of The Cat. As seventies as cheesecloth and homebrew, and featuring a gorgeous alto sax break. Enjoy.

Remember this from David Bowie’s penultimate album The Next Day? It’s a perfect psychedelic pop melody; indeed it could easily have been written in 1965. Maybe it was, and he just kept it in his back pocket for some infathomable Bowie-ish reason. But no; the lyrics point a more contemporary subject; this is no romantic ditty but a song about a high school massacre.

Bowie’s Valentine is an alienated kid with a list of targets:“Valentine told me who’s to go…The teachers and the football stars “. As well as sketching a horrific, and common, aspect of American life today, Bowie is referencing the 1929 “St Valentine’s Day massacre” in gangland Chicago.

A jarring contrast between music and message is always a winning formula in pop/rock. This is the only song I can think of about a high school massacre since The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”.

(Sorry this is not a very heart-warming post – blame Mr Bowie!😉 )

Human-Clone--4d2fc64351f68_hires

I remember when I set up my facebook account in 2009. I uploaded some photos to my profile, as you do, and sent out some friend requests. And then I saw a status update that has always stuck in my mind. It was by a female musician who was in a prominent band at the time; a very cool, cutting-edge type band. She was a cool, cutting-edge-type girl – someone I respected. And this is what she had decided to tell the world:

“I’ve just done a poo”

I don’t normally take much interest in other peoples’ bowel movements, but if this was what facebook was all about I figured I had to get with the program. So like several other of her friends (or sycophants) I approved of this earth-shattering revelation by clicking the ‘like’ button.

There was no going back. I had joined the facebook community – a transnational network devoted to the momentary study of slightly interesting things. Millions of people vaguely curious about the minutiae of each others’ lives; briefly intrigued by dancing parrots, and mildly outraged by political issues – just enough to click on an internet petition. I was destined to become a soulless scroller, lost in the flashing lights of competing content.

Now I don’t deny the value of social media for organising events, staying in touch with loved ones, and the sharing of thought-provoking content. And I like my funnies too; cats in boxes should be prescribed on the NHS as a stress-buster. The problem with facebook is that it all happens in the same place; this has become the platform through which many of us work and play, organise and socialise. For the home-working facebook addict, finding a period of focus is like grasping a bar of soap in the bath, their newsfeed crowded with infinite distractions that would destroy the attention span of the Buddha.

I hadn’t felt the need of a digital detox before. I don’t have a clever phone, so when I leave the house I re-enter the 1990s. It’s a simpler place. Snapchat has yet to suffer any of my bus stop selfies and when I need to find my way around an unfamiliar part of the city I just…fail.

But a recent period of hermithood made me feel that I was on a slippery slope. Staying at home most days meant that my intervals between logging on shrank dramatically. The first thing I would do when I got out of the shower was check for notifications, and I would regularly stop a film or video to look for those little red numbers.

I started to worry that I would never again be fully engaged in a piece of culture or an object of study because I would be forever picking at the facebook buffet; constantly grazing but never digesting. So, one Sunday I decided that the following week would be facebook-free.

What was it like, you ask? What happens to a moderately reclusive cultural activist when he avoids a certain blue-coloured website for seven days? Well, I read a whole lot more, finished a song I was stuck on, and discovered something called housework. I also played a strange gig in a deserted library and discussed naturism in a Wine Bar.

But the most interesting thing? BOREDOM

Remember boredom? It’s what used to happen occasionally when we had gaps between things.  There used to be special places designed to nurture it, like dentists’ waiting rooms and churches; but nowadays as soon as someone is required to sit down and do nothing, the phone is whipped out.

We are encouraged to think that what benefits us most is a life of interrupted mental stimulus, but it’s not true. Our feelings of boredom are just withdrawal symptoms from the addictive stimuli of modern life, which are largely marketing. Gaps between stimulus are actually vital for our wellbeing. Don’t ask me for the medical studies to back this up, leafing through back issues of the Lancet is just so tedious.

But really – boredom leads to daydreams; and studies have recently shown that it is vital for childrens’ development. It’s a launchpad to fantasy, dressing up and games. And boredom is also a key driver of much youthful creativity; Iggy Pop and The Buzzcocks both wrote songs about it. Without boredom there would be no punk rock!

The mid-70s were rich in boredom. Groups like Pink Floyd and The Carpenters played a vital part in giving the kids the urge to create something more exiting. Sure, the unemployment, power cuts and grey concrete tower blocks also helped, but popular culture needs periods of stagnant tedium in order for new generations to burst through and rejuvenate artforms – I’m serious, I think!

Getting lost is another aspect of life that is becoming eliminated by smartphones; and its extinction could prove disastrous for cultureFrom Homer’s Odyssey to Finding Nemo, struggling to find your way home is one of the eternal themes. These days Odysseus would be onto google maps in seconds, then easyjet’s site, and have a pizza ordered for when he got home; it would all be far too easy.

Boredom and being lost (in whatever sense) are part of the texture of human experience, and they can ultimately lead to growth, but they are getting squeezed out by the idea that we can never have enough convenience or entertainment. “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” was the satirical title of a Dead Kennedys album from 1987; but in our modern scenario, we may ultimately find that unlimited convenience is in fact spiritual death.

Of course I missed facebook. As the weekend loomed I felt I’d run out of productive things to do. I didn’t want to be productive any more, I was curious to find out what everyone was up to. But I held out for the full week, and aim to repeat the experience regularly – who knows, it may even make feel like going out and being sociable in the ‘real’ world again.

Or I could just stay home and tell you about my poos.

 

 

Style: "tracey-white"

Tracey Ullman was a ubiquitous British entertainer in the early 1980s who was so over-qualified that she managed to be a highly-rated TV comic and have a pop career on the side (which included a delicious cover of Kirsty Macoll’s “They Don’t Know”).

But Tracey lost her place in British culture when she married an American in 1985, and moved stateside where she became a massive star, with successful shows for Fox and HBO which were shown in the UK but failed to reflect her British identity, understandably.

During the 90’s/2000’s French and Saunders led the pack in female comedy, but currently there is lack of star quality in this area (the fantastic potential of Morgana Robinson having been allowed to seemingly fizzle out).

So it was interesting to see what Tracey’s first BBC series in 30 years would be like, and it’s a pleasure to say that she still has her finger firmly on the G-spot of British humour. The characters in this first episode were original, ranging from a recently-released convicted drug smuggler to a hopeless zoo keeper, and the writing was sharp. Despite the sharpness, this isn’t cutting-edge humour (see what I did there?), but a familiar recipe that does what it’s meant to, and does it well.

Despite this, the BBC appear to show little faith in the show by scheduling it at 10.45 pm – something of a kick in the teeth for the return of this prodigal daughter. Hopeful people will check it out on iplayer, if so they would be best advised not to skip the end, which features a song-and-dance number with tap-dancing librarians singing the praises of public services – unlikely, but brilliant.

(click the link below – I can’t seem to embed the video in this article…)

http://bbc.in/22W7vs4

 

 

 

 

My Latest Hero

I was delighted to discover this guy recently – Reggie Watts, if it is possible to define him, is a surreal stand-up comedian and improvising musician, who flips hilariously from one genre and persona to another effortlessly. At one moment he is straight-facedly delivering what seems to be a science lecture or TED talk, but the script has been written by a Martian acid-head, and delivered by a number of competing voices in different accents that issue, schitzophrenically from Reggie’s mouth. The next moment he’s ad-libbing like a screaming soul diva over a looped house track that he’s just created with his own voice and electronic gizmos. This guy is priceless. How had I not heard of him before?

 

 

I write this as I emerge from a bout of flu that has kept me horizontal for a week.  This attack has been milder than last year’s instalment – no projectile vomiting or fainting on the bog this time – and I suppose from  a dramatic perspective you could say it’s been a bit of a disappointment. But then, what can you expect from yet another sequel.

When it comes to mainstream entertainment movies it is rare to find a genuinely great film that isn’t conceived as a long-running franchise designed to milk the cash out of you on a long-term basis.

Hollywood has locked itself into a particular business model, desperately fracking the fuck out of any decent idea in order to keep the dollars coming in, all the while undermining the integrity of the original story.


star warsspiderman

We are all awaiting the seventh Star Wars film, while already in the works are reboots of Spider Man, Jurassic World and Pirates of The Fucking Carribbean – world supplies of barnacles and green seaweed are already dangerously low.  This is a trend that says something rather depressing about the human mind – that the warm glow of familiarity is more lucrative than the shock of the new. We would rather slip into the embrace of an old friend than discover the unfamiliar delights of a stranger.

metropolis

Once the film industry embraced new ideas and audiences welcomed it. Innovation thrived in the early days of cinema; Fritz Lang never considered making Metropolis 2, there was no need for a Return to Casablanca – the originals were stand-alone artworks. But in an age where so many entertainment platforms exist, and profit is so unpredictable, sequels and prequels have become the nearest thing to a safe bet. And with the use of comic book-derived stories, where plausibility is irrelevant to the genre, maximising income from sequels is a no-brainer – literally!

This is not to suggest that sequels are always bad – Spider Man 2, The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather Part 2 are examples often cited as sequels that genuinely improved on the original. In such cases you get a believable story arc over several films; and when originally devised by a novelist – i.e. J.R.R. Tolkein or J.K. Rowling – an extended film series can be a genuine delight.

It’s not necessarily a mass-market technique either, there have been some well-received arthouse sequels. Truffaut’s classic film about a troubled young boy, The 400 Blows was followed up three times with film updates on the main character’s life, while Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, about a chance meeting of two young travellers, became a trilogy.

But sometimes a film is somehow defined by its one-offness; and the news of a sequel has the sickly smell off greed about it.

blade runner

Next year sees the release of Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human. Ridley Scott’s original film stands alone and magnificent, as an iconic…erm, icon in film culture. It’s greatest merit could be that whilst not needing to be re-heated it has inspired so many other films. The last thing it needs is an inferior little sibling hanging around its coat-tails, fucking up its legacy.

How could Scott possibly follow the original? He knows can’t, which is why he’s only co-writing it. Denis Villeneuve is directing. He’s not a well-known director, but then again, neither was Scott when he made the original.  There’s every chance that he can make a perfectly watchable movie, if you forget about the classic that it’s supposed to be complementing.

I suppose the film might teach us all something valuable – replicants may eventually become a kind of sequel to the human race – but they will always be a bad imitation.

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