Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lousy Song, Great Solo #4

By 1977 English art-pop perfectionists, 10cc, were in crisis. Actually, they weren’t just in a crisis, they were fucked. The only thing was: they didn’t know it. 

Famously 10cc were born from the ashes of nascent careers writing hits for the Hollies and Yardbirds (Graham Gouldman), paying dues with Wayne Fontana (Eric Stewart had actually sang lead on The Mindbenders' biggest hit, 'Groovy Kind Of Love') or just being jobbing session players and studio rats (Kevin Godley and Lol Creme). Following a reasonably lucrative period running Strawberry Studios in Stockport and masterminding other faux-bands' singles, as well as a minor hit as Hotlegs (with 'Neanderthal Man'), the band were signed to Jonathan King's UK label, given a questionable new name and they were off. 

The next four years had seen them put into effect what was almost a masterplan of pop strategy, moving them from cheeky chart contenders to album conceptualists. Their self-titled debut album's parodies laid their stall out with aplomb. It was full of 50's pastiches such as 'Johnny Don't Do It' or 'Donna' and the censor-baiting rockers such as 'Rubber Bullets' while displaying a fearsome grasp of studio trickery. Here was a band that not only had the ironic detachment of, say, Steely Dan (a band with whom 10cc are most often compared, both bands having learned their trade via the '60s equivalent of Tin Pan Alley on either side of the Atlantic) but also the smarts to make top 40 gold out of what was far more grown-up fare than that of contemporaries such as say, Slade or Gary Glitter. The following year's album, Sheet Music, saw the pastiches jettisoned and the band truly find their own sound. What was effectively a pair of duos combined Godley and Creme's cerebral love of art rock and musicals with Gouldman and Stewart's ear for an irresistible tune. sardonic, knowing hits 'Wall Street Shuffle' and 'Silly Love' rubbed shoulders with hilarious deconstructions of the ridiculous trade in which they worked such as 'The Worst Band In The Word' ('Never seen the van, leave it to the roadies, never seen the roadies, leave 'em in the van') or 'Old Wild Men' (possibly the first song to conceive of rock stars ageing), while third world politics and terrorism, were also fair game to these clever boys. 

Of course the following year's Original Soundtrack contained THAT SONG and the world now seemed theirs for the taking. However the cracks were beginning to show. The differing approaches of the two pairs was becoming more obvious with Godley and Creme's post-modernism ('The Film Of My Love' or the overlong tri-part 'Une Nuit A Paris') sounding at odds with Gouldman and Stewart's more straightforward rock and pop craftsmanship. It was still a fantastic album, however, and by 1976's How Dare You! these cracks seemed less apparent, to the point that the album could stand as their masterpiece, containing suites in miniature like 'I'm Mandy Fly Me', 'Art For Art's Sake' or 'Don't Hang Up'. But in the studio the four had reached breaking point and Godley and Creme headed for the hills (and a future in video pioneering) holding their art school credentials high and leaving the remaining duo to wonder whether to carry on as 5cc.

The unfortunate decision was to draft tour drummer, Paul Burgess as a full-time member, recruit some other fine session players and soldier on. The sense that Gouldman and Stewart did this just to show the quitters just how much they didn't need them is borne out by later interviews. Both parties now admit culpability with Godley and Creme admitting that maybe they could have gone off to make the overblown Consequences album (ostensibly a triple album vehicle to advertise their patented Gizmotron guitar tool which was hamstrung by a little too much self-indulgence and weed) and simply brought the resulting lessons learned back to be used by 10cc, Gouldman and Stewart meanwhile found it impossible to sanction any hiatus by the others while they were at the peak of their earning powers. Ah, foolish youth…

But be quiet, big boys don't cry; this lengthy back story serves as a scene setting for what came next: the truly awful Deceptive Bends album. Although by no means a total disaster (especially when compared to the following studio album, Bloody Tourists which contains 'Dreadlock Holiday'. The world's most racist hit? You tell me…). Obviously Graham and Eric weren't dunces, and their ear for a hit hadn't deserted them, but somehow without the worldly cynicism of Kevin and Lol they had to rely on their own more forced sense of humour. Deceptive Bends contains ten of the cleverest, most slickly produced cuts, but somehow it's a joyless affair. Just compare 'I'm Not In Love' from two years previously with 'The Things You Do For Love'. or 'People In Love'. The sly irony has vanished and instead it's replaced by something utterly impressive and yet lifeless.

But worst of all was the lead track which when released in 1977 made it to number 5 in the UK charts: 'Good Morning Judge'.

For starters, there are the lyrics, concerning what Allmusic describes as 'a career criminal'.  Let's have a look at the first verse: 
Well good morning Judge, how are you today?
I'm in trouble, please put me away
A pretty thing took a shine to me
I couldn't stop her, so I let it be (repeat three times) etc.

So in the very first verse our 'hero' is admitting to what exactly? It sounds suspiciously like an 'ironic' reference to either sexual assault or under age sex to me (good grief, what was I saying about Gary Glitter?), especially when you examine the following verse's reference to a car theft ('I found a car but I couldn't pay. I fell in love so I drove it away').


Riding on a jaunty beat that  drives home the repeated refrain at the end of each verse, it also contains what by now had become the band's stock in trade, the doubling of lead vocal with a bass voice an octave underneath. In other words, with this, the first song of a post-split 10cc, the band have begun to parody themselves. If this isn't warning enough, the stand-in for a chorus ('I didn't do it, i wasn't there' etc…) sounds like the pair are making excuses for their own musical crimes.

And yet, at the end of each verse there's something strange happening. Eric's ultra-nimble slide guitar which had appeared in the middle section of the previous year's 'I'm Mandy, Fly Me' reappears to make a startling little interjection before droning up the fretboard and away. Clearly the chops hadn't deserted them. And, as if that wasn't frustrating enough, at the 1'31'' mark the slide returns to usher in perhaps Eric's finest moment: a solo that manages to combine Bakersfield with a call-and-response chickenwalk and blows your head away, all before the 1'58'' mark when it gives way to a bottom end riff (again, merely reiterating the band's superior earlier work) that signals a return to the laugh-free irony fest.   

It's doubly annoying here because not only is it a blinding solo - perhaps one of my top five of all time despite its brevity (or maybe because of it) - but also because it resides in a completely shit song that objectifies women, trivialises crime (Rubber Bullets at least knew it was springing from a tradition that included 'Cell Block Number Nine' or 'Jailhouse Rock') and, worst of all, was catchy as hell.

To be fair, at the age of 16/17 I thought it was very clever and loved it to death. But age, wisdom and a heavy heart now lead me to cringe every time I hear it. All except for those scant 25-odd seconds of six-string heaven in the middle...

Of monsters and men: Nightcrawler ( 2014), The Babadook (2014), Mr Turner (2014)

I recently mentioned on this blog that the year 2014 didn't really seem to have offered up too many film highlights, yet looking back I've realised that I was being my usual half-empty self, and that maybe I've been a bit hasty. For instance: 2014 did at least give us one of THE best science fiction movies of the last thirty years (Under The Skin); Lars Von Trier's Nymph()maniac was just great and, having viewed it again, I'd still maintain that Edge of Tomorrow is as good a slice of rip-roaring entertainment as you're likely to get in any year. Add to that the major diversion of Summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy (again, it bears multiple views plus who can resist Bradley Cooper as a talking Racoon and Vin Diesel as a monosyllabic tree?); Wes Anderson's charming Grand Budapest Hotel and the impending release of Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice as well as what will (hopefully) be a good third outing for Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen… even the final Hobbit movie (if it's as good as the last) looks like fun and, well… maybe I was being a tad harsh. Maybe it's just that inevitable save-it-all-until-it's-autumn/Oscar nomination time wasteland that we now have to endure all Summer which made me feel so bleak three months ago.

So, putting behind us the (inevitable) disappointment of Nolan in Space, it may not be that unusual to note that in the last week alone I've seen three great films all of which I could write reams about. Nightcrawler (dir: Dan Gilroy) stars a gaunt, sociopathic Jake Gyllenhall as the titular ambulance-chaser-with-a-flipcam creep, Lou Bloom, who embodies the lengths post-recessional capitalist zombies in West Coast America will go to to make their fortunes. It's not dark. It's black as pitch and offers no succour to those who believe in humanity's best instincts. The film's co-star, Rene Russo, as the news station chief editor who'll sell her (questionable) soul for ratings, no matter what she has to pass off as 'news' is equally impressive. Imagine Network crossed with Blow-Up with the cynicism turned up to 11. It's shocking and impressive…

Next up was The Babadook. Directed by  former actress, Jennifer Kent, and based on her previous short, Monster, this Australian horror movie takes a very northern european trope (a creepy children's book character which looks like a cross between an Edward Gorey drawing and Struewelpeter that invades the home. Eek!) and comes up with an inventive twist on the 'monster in the cupboard' model of horror. Essie Davis is just incredible as the single mother dealing with her son who is displaying some worryingly disturbing behaviour in the wake of a fatherless upbringing. I won't say much more other than it's superbly stylised look at grief, dysfunction and the way in which both adults and children deal with loss and fear. It also had me experiencing something I haven't had from a horror movie in years: genuine chills up the spine. Don't go on your own (like I did).

But best of all was Mr Turner. Being told by critics who have the luxury to be jetted out to film festivals months in advance that a film is close to being a masterpiece is usually a real passion killer for me. So it was with Mike Leigh's latest. even if it was about my favourite painter and starred Timothy Spall who can pretty much do no wrong (even those Wickes advert voiceovers are somehow reassuring and he was the real cherry on the cake in another fabulous biopic: The Damned United). After being told for nigh on six months that this would be the film of the year it became the last thing that I really wanted to see. (yes, as my friend Simon would say: I'm a contrarian).

Thank god, I didn't listen too hard to that inner voice. I've said it before, but Mr Turner confirms it: I'm a sucker for the biopic, especially the old-fashioned Hollywood episodic type that leaves you rushing for Wikipedia 'facts' by the end. I may get round to expanding on this, but friends know that one of my all-time favourite movies is Martin Scorcese's criminally underrated The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes. Not only is it the film where I realised that Leo is a great actor, but for some reason everything about it makes me happy, from Cate Blanchett's pitch-perfect Katherine Hepburn to the cinematography of Robert Richardson. But really, from Fritz Lang's almost entirely fictitious The Return of Frank James (1940) via a visibly crumbing Montgomery Clift as Freud (1962) to Ron Howard's high-octane study of James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Rush - there's something about a 'real-life' story that always gets me hooked. Even though there's nothing remotely real about any of it.

And Mr Turner, while probably (I've been resisting reading reviews until now) being lauded as something extraordinary (which it is) is, under the skin, another film in the great tradition of condensing uncomfortable reality into a two-hour entertainment spree. For this reason Leigh serves up not only a reasonably accurate depiction of the world of academic painting in early 19th century Britain, but also teases a moving love story out of the life of a truculent man who famously had few friends.

It manages to carefully shoehorn in every famous anecdote you've ever heard about Turner (including the fictitious one about him being tied to a ship's mast during a snowstorm) and every significant painting that marked the geniuses' move towards proto-abstraction; all without too much visible artifice or contrivance. Only twice did I feel a little too spoon-fed: Once, when someone suggests that the sight of HMS Temeraire being towed to its grave by a steamer might make a suitable subject for Turner's canvas, and secondly when, despite his drunken adage, he turns to Ruskin's new young bride, Effie, and tells her that she will eventually find love (putting him in the role of mystic or seer).

A little like Gilles Bourdos' lesser study of a painter moving towards death, Renoir (2012), the digital palette on offer today now means that directors can make their films about famous painters match the colour schemes of their masterpieces. Mr Turner constantly and inventively hints at Turner's use of colour in its mise-en-scene while (thankfully) keeping to a minimum any sunset profiles. 

From Petworth (above) and its deer park to the Academy and his famed rivalry with Constable and even up to his eventual fall from fashion via the machinations of ludicrously pompous fan-boy Ruskin and his PreRaphaelite disciples (as well as the later Victorian zeal for genre painting), this film never misses a trick. Yet it's far from dry history, despite its slavish attention to detail (witness Pa Turner shaving a pig's head near the beginning!).

At somewhere around the halfway mark, the film - which until this point seemed far less narrative-driven and more concerned with brief snapshots of Turner's later life (which seemed ironic, considering the role that nascent photography takes later in the film) - coalesces into a far more traditional tale of JMW's burgeoning relationship with his Margate landlady. This, along with the rather generic strings and saxophone soundtrack was about the only thing I could point to as being close to disappointments. Such is Leigh's masterful hand (and, of course, I'd forgotten that he was a master at this sort of period frolic, having given us Topsy-Turvy in 1999) and the sheer brilliance (forgive the hyperbole, but there's no other word for them) of the entire casts' performances.

Spall as JMW is as rough and graceless as contemporary accounts confirm, using dismissive grunts and porcine snorts to convey both disapproval and approbation while never failing to be less than erudite in the company of those more high-born than himself. It's a study of passion trapped inside a rotund, misshapen body but made eloquent both by the use of his hands and by a disarming grace with words. The language is a delight and even his faltering rendition of a Purcell song when duetting with a lost aristocratic love manages to convey a vast pathos, all the while sounding like a 19th century Tom Waits.

The (mis)treatment of women, represented by his abandoned mistress and progeny as well as the ill-used housekeeper, Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson (above): who really should get an Oscar for best supporting actress) contrasts with his discovery of domestic bliss in the arms of Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey) Yet Leigh never sugar-coats the contradictions and injustices, instead balancing them with the mores of the day and the painter's rejection of human injustice and fascination with the rapid progress of the scientific and industrial revolutions of the age. It's the work of a director who uses his own canvas to paint a portrait of a man for whom nature could never became dull and who, beneath a grim exterior, possessed a huge heart. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Host (2014)

A couple of weeks back I posted about the new improved (?) Bandcamp site that I now have with new artwork, links and such, and also promised I’d write when my latest project was ready for public consumption.

Host is a multimedia project created initially for Auflage #1: an artist’s book fair hosted over two weekends at Galerie GUM, in Bielefeld, N. Germany and curated by Gabriele Undine Meyer and Vera Brueggemann. The original idea was to publish a book of photographs which would come with a CD of new material, but time constraints (and the lack of a decent printer) meant that the concept changed. Host is now a limited edition of ten signed box sets containing ten hand-written postcards (complete with neat space-themed stamps!) and a CD of ten new tracks.

The five boxes taken to Germany amazingly all sold and the few remaining copies (three at time of writing) are now available to buy on the Bandcamp site for £70. If all copies sell I will be creating a second edition before the end of the year.

The idea was a particularly neat solution for the problem of what I could confidently bring to such a gathering of talented people, mainly because it plays to my three main areas of interest, music, writing and photography. Each card (the images can be found on my photography blog here) depicts a landscape that somehow conveys an otherworldly quality (hence the stamps). Each short message/story may or may not relate to the image featured: the same being true for each of the ten pieces of music. The listener/reader can choose exactly how much meaning they wish to imprint onto these sets.
The music is also available separately as a digital download from the Bandcamp site.

The project has been a considerable amount of work over the last month or so, but I have to say I’ve been thrilled at how it seems to have turned out exactly as I envisaged it.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me or bought the box, and especial thanks to Vera and Gabriele for being so generous with their time and their opinions.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Interstellar (2014)

The inevitability of me writing about Interstellar is as great as the fact that no matter what Christopher Nolan did, it would be bound to be a disappointment.  This doesn’t mean that Interstellar (Nolan’s fourth film to date beginning with the letter ‘I’) is a complete failure, far from it: it’s a never less than thrilling hunk of eye candy supported by a suitably cosmic plotline filled with enough twists and turns to keep any audience engaged. And while ubiquitous Matthew McConaughey may just be on the cusp of wearing out his welcome on our screens with his stock in trade breathless fatalism, as with his recent searing performance as Rust Kohl in True Detective, he projects stoic capability and glowering, world-weary passion unlike any other screen actor I can think of at the moment.

But this is Christopher Nolan (along with, as usual, his brother Jonathan) doing serious science fiction. And on a week when Kubrick’s 2001 is re-released for the umpteenth time in cinemas, Interstellar has to be (deservedly) judged by a higher set of values than just another blockbuster. Nolan obviously expects it, so logic dictates that it should be criticised on the same terms. And for that reason alone, Interstellar fails.

I’ve been all worked up over this film for well over a year now (when they started showing trailers in cinemas). The anticipation I felt for Nolan’s epic was born of the fact that this was, reportedly, a comfortably old-fashioned look at space travel and was flagged as a true return to the glories of Kubrick and Clarke’s science-based vision of the human race’s inevitable journey to other galaxies. I was thrilled about the possibility of a film that could once more get to grips with the realistic conception of interstellar travel, how it could work and the mysteries any adventurer would encounter: a return to the glorious scientific optimism of my generation’s childhood.

So what does Interstellar bode for our notions of science fiction? Ostensibly it’s a ‘hard’ sci-fi film but is weighed down by its inability to stop pointing out how clever it is while dragging along a parallel plot regarding wispy notions about of the power of love (which, if I take Nolan’s point correctly is comparable to gravity in its ability to transcend space and time... or something). And indeed, Nolan is here cheerleading for culture’s latest hot date: sexy old science. In a future where mankind has found itself facing imminent destruction from crop failure, corn is the only remaining plentiful food source. I imagine that this would be a world where if someone offered you cornflakes for breakfast you’d probably punch them in the throat (and I also admit to wondering what such a reduced diet would do to the human digestive system). But Nolan has no time for lily-livered eco warriors intent on being a ’caretaker generation’ (even to the somewhat unbelievable point of being moon landing-deniers, for fear of inflaming a human race for whom such money wasting on space travel may seem idiotic when all energy needs to be focussed on providing food). It’s a strangely Boys' Own notion where Matthew McConaughey, as Cooper (or ‘Coop’), is an ex-NASA test pilot who rails against his lost chances for glory and lives vicariously through his troubled prodigy of a daughter, Murph. In a nicely feminist touch her older brother is a pleasant knucklehead who actually likes farming. What a rube…

No, only the truly brave and reckless will win this grim day for mankind, so despite his attachment to his family (that significantly lacks a mother figure) Coop’s heading for outer space to seek out new worlds etc. after some suitably cosmic coincidences that bring him together with Michael Caine (doing his Nolanesque weepy old man thing again) and his scientist daughter, Anne Hathaway.

The film’s second half is filled with the typical post-Gravity nuts and bolts derring-do-in-a-vacuum stuff that no epic sci-fi movie can be without (as usual involving air locks, docking and terror in stomach-churning spinning spaceship fashion) but it’s also here that Nolan veers a little too close to Kubrick’s hallowed ground. A final encounter with the ‘hard’ maths of an event horizon/singularity makes deliberate nods to 2001’s finale – cue Coop’s helmet glinting with the retro-styling of the spaceship’s computer consoles etc.  as he hurtles towards his encounter with higher powers - and maybe this is why Interstellar resists any genuine sense of awe, because Nolan’s initial vision of  Humanity having lost its ability to crave adventure and take chances (‘Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt,’ Coop says early on, while sipping a manly beer on his porch with grumpy father-in-law, John Lithgow) also relies on the kind of Dawkinsian triumph of science and rationalism which will somehow explain away the ‘ghost’ from daughter Murph’s childhood. Planets in Interstellar are inert balls of rock for us to plunder, or play out our very human dramas; the abandonment of our world is just an inevitable fact as we follow the unfashionable notion of progress into the future. Just get over it, hippies…

The trouble is that Interstellar wants its huge galactic cake and it also wants to eat it at the box office. Nolan’s for all his high-mindedness is in thrall to money-making machinery that will always preclude making a truly hard sci-fi movie in the modern age. Time and again the film’s insistence on drawing attention to its science credibility rubs uncomfortably against a need to inject emotion and drama thrilling enough to keep less attentive viewers watching. These devices, when cast against just about the biggest background you can have, can come across as hackneyed (for instance: the race against time device in the film’s last third is both contrived and unnecessary as it’s obvious how it will play out) and at times even cynical. The concentration of the camera on the defrosting of one of the advance team of scientists who preceded Coop’s mission is only there to make you supposedly gasp at the revelation of another major star late in proceedings. Meanwhile one ten-minute section uses the incomprehensibility of the spoken lines to put the audience on tenterhooks before the whole thing is again explained to them. Meanwhile Coop’s inexplicably rapid promotion to mission pilot (from farmer) seems only there so he can ask all the dumb questions that the audience may have.  I would have far preferred the steely pragmatism of 2001’s crew as they attempt to repair their craft, instead of a ship where everyone’s worried about their own personal agendas. Surely there would be some kind of psychological evaluation before you’d send people on such mind-bending voyages?

Compare this to Kubrick’s approach: he never really bothers to explain matters until the point at which the mission has very nearly failed and HAL’s dying act releases the briefing video that finally tells Dave what he’s about to encounter. And, even then, the viewer is left to themselves to contemplate the real meaning of the final psychedelic showdown. For Stanley the alien’s purpose should always remain shrouded in mystery, only hinting at wonders beyond our comprehension, but in Nolan’s universe the face of God is not only knowable, it’s revealed to be ourselves. Interstellar, much like a vast amount of Nolan’s other work, contains a monstrous hubris at its heart.

And like the fifth dimension where Coop finally sees the workings of his own familial drama laid bare Interstellar ultimately has feeling of being a film reverse engineered for cleverness. And in the same way that Inception started with an intriguing notion and then proceeded to explain the life out of it, Interstellar asks you to accept its deus ex machina fudging until it’s all neatly explained (as with all time travel paradox malarkey in movies) by a final reel replete with happy endings and cute end-tying. We’re expected to sit back and marvel, not just at the cosmos, but at the director’s big brain.

I know comparisons can be belittling, but let’s be honest, Nolan’s not really hiding his influences that well. Beyond the inevitable parallels with Kubrick, Hans Zimmer’s organ-heavy soundtrack injects enough of the planetary-scale gravitas of Philip Glass and Koyaanisqatsi, but other reviews have also pointed to the less flattering ghost of M Night Shamalyan that hangs over the film. It’s not helped by the setting of the first third on the dust-drenched cornfields of Cooper’s farm. What is it with science fiction and cornfields? From the laughably contrived Looper to Shamalyan’s not-that-bad-actually Signs and even in this year’s so-bad-it-was-nearly-genius Transformers Age of Extinction: the vast stretches of nascent popcorn seem to some kind of touch point which may be necessary to capture those vast mid-Western audiences. Or maybe it’s just because Ray Bradbury stories often took place on such archetypal farmsteads.  But in the end Interstellar - beyond its incredible imagery of other worlds and (with the consultancy of physicist Kip Thorne) in conveying what a real black hole may look like – contains nothing really original to the genre. And yet, this doesn’t make it a bad movie in any way: Nolan’s too seasoned a director (and rightly deserves to inhabit the same lofty realm as people such as Spielberg).

Mind you, it was also probably a bad idea to send a mission equipped with another sci-fi space yarn cliché - two sardonic robots. Never really given enough space (they get just about all of what counts for the film’s ‘humorous’ lines) – they nonetheless only draw attention to the fact that Anne Hathaway has zero screen personality. Far better is David Gyasi as the poor ‘pure’ scientist, Romilly, whose twitchy reaction to the tenuous nature of space travel leads to one of the film’s most effective (albeit brief) moments where the Lazarus spacecraft drifts around Saturn’s rings accompanied by the sounds of Earth’s wildlife. In another of the film’s finest moments Cooper and Brand (Hathaway) return from a short, disastrous trip to a planet’s surface to find that 23 years have elapsed due to the relativistic effects of the nearby black hole. Not only is McConaughey’s reaction to seeing his children become middle-aged adults via archived video diary messages deeply affecting, but Gyasi’s quiet edge of insanity brought about by the extreme loneliness he’s suffered is beautifully observed. Luckily Coop’s daughter has grown up to be Jessica Chastain (already a proven natural at playing steely–faced women with a serious job to do in the awful Zero Dark Thirty) who manages superbly to convey the contradictions in someone for whom the pain of abandonment is trumped by her own scientific curiosity (luckily for mankind).

Popcorn for dinner... again
Set against a truly cosmic background the petty squabbles and cheap Hollywood gewgaws designed to ramp up the excitement seem too cheap and extraneous. Even Steven Soderbergh’s re-tooling of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (a book which never reaches any conclusions about the mysteries we may ultimately encounter out there and was, thus, suitably spiritual ground for Tarvoksky to use as well), while focusing on love managed to remain in awe of the ineluctable grandeur of the universe and the unknowable face of God. Yet Interstellar is a pretty great film.  As with Edge Of Tomorrow, earlier this year, it’s no shame to make a film that contains not one ounce of originality and still blows you away. Interstellar’s fault is that it aims, both literally and figuratively, for the stars but forgets to leave in any sense of the mysterious. By explaining every detail of its intricate mechanism, it’s a film that’s ultimately earthbound. File under ‘brave attempt’.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lousy Song, Great Solo #3

Louie Shelton
I bet you thought I'd do a couple of these and then stop, but NO. I have at least another three already lined up - so let's get this rather obvious one out of the way.

To anyone over the age of 40, this particular song means one thing and one thing only: Lionel Richie pretending to be a drama teacher while his blind girlfriend makes a big clay Lionel head. Yes, it's 'Hello' - the cheesiest, most superbly, cloyingly awful schlock that Richie ever produced.

Well, apart from 'Say You, Say Me', 'Stuck On You', 'Penny Lover', 'Truly', 'You Are, My Love'… hold on a second… Lionel made hundreds of these monstrosities!  But 'Hello' pips them all, if only because of that video. You want to see it now, don't you?

There… happy? 

Let's get to the nub of the matter: 'Hello' is not actually the very worst thing LR's ever done. The thing is, by this point (1984) he'd been around the business for years. His industrial grade funk with The Commodores had proven that he had the requisite soul chops, but the gigantic success of 'Easy' and the knowledge that he had a very particular talent for the kind of records that Simon Bates used to dredge up every other day on his Our Tune slot on daytime Radio One, meant that our Lionel was destined to follow his star (and maybe his agent's advice) and literally churn out the tooth-rottingest pop imaginable. Ma Richie obviously didn't raise no idiots - the cash registers rang merrily for most of the '80s, by which time Lionel had gained his apotheosis.

And don't get me wrong - I actually like Lionel Richie. 'Machine Gun' and 'Brick House' are solid gold classics on any planet. And 'Hello'?: well, it's terrible, but no worse than later Stevie Wonder dross (and let's face it, his golden period was over by about 1979). No, we have the video to blame for the reputation of the song. And Lionel obviously never really took himself seriously. Watch this little clip and see if I'm not wrong:
Point taken?

Anyhow, this doesn't get us to the main point: that 'Hello' may contain more E numbers than Sunny Delight, but it has at its heart a truly awesome guitar solo.

Popping in at around the 2'48'' mark - this jazzy little confection is the cherry on top of Lionel's sticky creation. It's in no way flashy, but it's perfect for the setting - a little supper club, a little yearning too. 

The solo is played by Louis 'Louie' Shelton - a legend among session players whose career crossed paths with just about every late '60s and early '70s MOR act that scored a hit. He also plays the rather more complex flamenco style solo that appears in the 1968 Monkees' hit 'Valleri'. It's worth revisiting that on video as well, just to watch Mike Nesmith attempt (and heroically fail) to mime the solo. You also have a levitating Davey Jones in there. Good times!

But to return to this particular lousy song - Shelton's solo exudes the kind of Grant Green-in-a-sweet-shop vibe that always got my attention, even though I knew that the place it resided was forbidden territory. It was this solo that I was looking for...

Post-tabloid feeding frenzies and the c-word: Gone Girl and Maps to the Stars (2014)

For some reason the will to write about films this year has been lacking. I say, 'for some reason' yet I think I'm being disingenuous for the simple fact seems to be that great films this year are in worryingly short supply. Pessimists (or optimists, depending on your point of view) would refer to the rise of the box set diet and point to the the 'wealth' of quality drama series, with top box office talent to boot, leading to a leaching of talented writers and directors, lured - in straitened financial times - by guaranteed returns, efficient factory-line production processes and the strong chance of repeat fees until they turn grey. This is no shock to anyone with a TV or a laptop.

Yet I see no reason to regard this zenith of chapterised entertainment as any kind of 'threat' to serious cinema. To me that's a little like saying that soap operas could challenge literature - the two function entirely separately in their cultural purpose, and anyone who regards TV as offering any really serious talking points is missing the point entirely. I refer to this age we inhabit a 'zenith' for a simple reason. TV, like all mass communication in capitalist frameworks can only reach a certain point before it starts to mimic itself and rely on formula. And it's way past that point as far as I can see: with new 'landmark' series being announced virtually weekly. 

Sure, cinema does this too (and Hollywood is nothing, if not a knee-jerk reactionary industry mainly devoid of people able to think beyond percentages and sequels. Thanks again, George Lucas etc. etc.), but like the literary novel, its medium allows for (and demands) a rigour and an economy of story-telling that is notoriously hard to pull off on a small screen. I loved Hannibal, but it's still a prequel that has strayed into one forthcoming season too many. Elementary was another re-tooling of Arthur Conan Doyle for the 21st century; House of Cards was a remake of a '70s British drama… you get my point. 

People who think Game of Thrones is high art, just because it comes from a multi-volume series and thus requires several seasons to cover or because it's a loose analogy of early medieval history, have missed the point (again). We watch these weekly instalments because we long, like children, for narrative closure. I recently watched the excellent True Detective with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey being dragged through the swampy underbelly of Louisiana towards some kind of Lovecraftian non-revelatory climax: it was superbly acted, written and directed. In fact, only the awful T Bone Burnett faux-bluesyness of the opening music, and the hurried last episode spoiled the thing. And yet… by the end I realised that the whole thing worked better as scene setting for a new long-running detective series starring Marty Hart and Rust Cohl, because now we really had explored their respective back stories (and still left more to explore, for instance: Rust's Alaskan upbringing) and had established a rather fine dynamic. But also at the same time I enjoyed it because I knew there were only eight episodes and that I would have the requisite closure.

I admit that I never got through more than five episodes of Breaking Bad, not because I didn't enjoy it, admire it or even want to see more. Put it down to time constraints. And yet I'm willing to bet that no one really got a great deal of philosophical, moral or didactic grist from the series, despite the slick writing, superb acting or the thrilling portrayal of a descent into darkness. Actually, I've just realised that I lied just now: it wasn't time constraints alone that put me off completing these commitments to fiction - it was the sure and certain knowledge that I would always, in some way, be let down. I lost (haha) six YEARS to Lost and look how THAT turned out. Homeland was, and is, when all's said and done, pure fantasy with one coruscating central performance (Claire Danes) by a character who you very quickly get sick of. What's more, its central premise: that any one of us may be the mole/spy/religious nut, was directly lifted from Battlestar Galactica

I used to write a lot about BSG. That was my first real experience of the joy of box-bingeing. And yet it celebrated its ten-year anniversary this week. Homeland appeared in 2011 - which implies that in seven short years the now-ubiquitous water cooler series has reached its tipping point. BSG was both an exemplary and a terrible place to start my series-watching habits, mainly because it dared to address contemporary matters both spiritual and political in a brutally serious way, and also because space opera is a far more forgiving arena for examining  such weighty matters. Maybe because our expectations are lowered by the genre it succeeds far better at sneaking in the subversiveness. Nothing these days can really compete with that initial thrill of seeing something that dared to openly criticise American society on a small screen. But even re-watching BSG revealed the occasional hackneyed sub-plots or dodgy performances. And on a week after David Lynch and Mark Frost announced a return to Twin Peaks - surely THE high-water mark for TV drama subversion - no one seems to have remembered how bitterly disappointing the second season was - descending into soap opera and second-rate sci fi nonsense when Lynch fell out with the network. 

Lynch's recent pronouncements that now only TV has the funding and scope to produce serious high-level drama is both cowardly and incorrect. I'd argue that TV can easily subvert our expectations, but its format can only ever lead to serious compromise and ratings chasing. Let's face it, the BBC wouldn't be in such a parlous state today if it hadn't bowed down to these market forces. And no amount of HBO/Netflix/Amazon Prime shenanigans will replace the rigour of sitting still with no adverts for two hours watching a large screen. And while this insistence on the effort involved in getting off your fat arses and hauling them to the local fleapit may seem quaintly archaic or even Stalinist, I truly believe that for true film art people will always need to return to the cinema.

Which brings me onto the two films mentioned in the title: because one is an example of a director who dabbles in both genres quite happily (as Lynch used to do) but sees no paradox or even crossover. The other is an auteur who consistently derides the constraints of shrinking budgets by creating superb, low budget arthouse movies that always challenge thinking and twist perceptions of modern/future thinking.

David Fincher's remake of House of Cards was undeniably superb on every level. The cold-hearted dissection of the Washington snake pit moved like a well-oiled machine through the degradations of a modern, socially networked and post-tabloid world. Of course it didn't hurt that the leads (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright) were completely believable as steely-eyed pragmatists and power game whores. But Fincher's heartland (again like Lynch) is still the big screen as Gone Girl proves. There's nothing in House of Cards doesn't appear in some form or another in his cinema, in fact it's pretty much all there in Gone Girl, apart from the overt political overtones.  The adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel (with apparently a slightly more ambiguous ending) is crisp despite being overlong, biting and above all: funny. Really funny, in fact. The skewering of the media frenzy surrounding an alleged disappearance of a beautiful wife from small town Missouri is filled with knowing dialogue, priceless asides and brutally accurate portrayals of the human scum that rises to the top during a circus that attends every high profile court case, from Madeleine McCann to Oscar Pistorius: this is a timely movie, just as The Social Network was. I have to admit I found the story of Zuckerberg slightly more compelling in its observances of the rise of social media and the bratty nerdy heart at the centre of this latest phase of 'civilisation'; but then I've had to work in that particular swamp of egotism for a few years now.

But with a razor sharp script, an outstanding collection of casting choices (not one actor seemed out of place) and denouement that refused to see so-called justice meted out, Gone Girl is a truly 21st century film. The meta jokes come thick and fast: even including Ben Affleck's chin (even the investigating police officer in charge of the investigation makes a joke about the bar Affleck's character owns as being a 'meta bar' because it's called The Bar). It's the kind of film you wish you'd seen with a notebook, so many are the great one-liners. I guffawed when Rosamund Pie's rube ex-boyfriend of  (played by Neil Patrick Harris doing his best Niles Crane impersonation) says, of the plan to run away to a Greek Island: 'fresh octopus and scrabble!'. Gone Girl is not a great movie but it is a very good one. Fincher has his signature style, yet he falls far short of being an original (no matter what you may think of boys' 'cult' stuff like 7even or Fight Club) - relying too often on established forms or other people's words. On watching Mark Gatiss' guide to European horror films last night I realised that Gone Girl was very similar to Les Diaboliques, although it cleverly avoids the final twist ending that would make it another bloody M Night Shamalyan 'why see it more than once' special.

Maps to the Stars, meanwhile,  continues David Cronenberg's recent spate of literary adaptations although this time it's merely the script (and experiences) of Hollywood writer, Bruce Wagner (who, like Robert Pattinson here, worked as a limo driver while attempting to get his scripts filmed). Wagner may be remembered by some readers as the man behind Wild Palms - a wonky mini-series based on his comic book, which recycled a lot of Cronenberg (and Philip K Dick's) ideas.

If there's one sure sign that you've made it as an arthouse, yet mainstream auteur in Tinseltown, it's by making a film about Tinseltown. Billy Wilder, the Coens, even Lynch etc. etc. the list is almost inexhaustible. And if we're talking meta, Maps… is so stuffed with self-reference and cultural nods that there's barely time to fit in a scant plot about incest, madness and (what else) narcissistic self-involvement. Beginning a little like a Robert Altman movie (disparate characters whose paths gradually enmesh) - in fact it was The Player which I was most reminded of. Many lines brought to mind that fantastic scene in Palm Springs where Greta Scacchi says to Tim Robbins: 'I thought these places only existed in movies'.

It's not just Altman who gets a nod here: there's a line about P T Anderson (and his ability to resurrect careers): and of course Julianne Moore gave another powerhouse performance in Magnolia, as similar tale of self-interest and incest in Los Angeles… And other actors don't get of lightly either. Robert Pattinson, a man whose career is completely worth following in my opinion, gets to reprise his limo-dwelling role from recession-fever dream, Cosmopolis, only this time he's driving the limo. He still has sex in the back, however (in years to come, people may possibly refer to this period of Cronenberg's career as his 'Robert Pattinson shagging in the back of a limo' phase). Come to that, even Cronenberg references himself - as one character is bludgeoned to death with one of his own (Canadian) film awards. Talk about sneaky and snarky,eh?

It does have its flaws: Wagner's cynical dissection of John Cusak as self-help snake oil salesman, 'Dr' Stafford Weiss seems a little hypocritical when you consider that he's a pretty new age guy himself (as most cynics tend to be): a former follower of Carlos Castaneda and a current follower of some other guru. Here his harsh nibbling of the hand that feeds him is also predictable as hell. But this is why Cronenberg can now be considered a master. In his hands the material takes that brilliant odd half-turn that always leaves you feeling slightly disoriented.  While, just like Fincher, he's fascinated by the rapid changes that shape all of our lives, he also layers it with a surrealism that's never obvious. In any Cronenberg film there's always bound to be sex, disease and decay, yet here you get the sense that Cronenberg holds out some hope that there's a universality in the suffering of these spoilt denizens of the Hollywood Hills. Evan Bird's Justin Bieber-alike brattishness masks a deep, and surprisingly mature worldliness. His final line is 'I made 13 summers, not so bad.' which sounds like the words of someone five times his age. He's a boy who grew up far too fast.  His parents played to perfection by Cusack and a wonderfully under/out of control power-hungry Olivia Williams are only one step ahead of the same media feeding frenzy that consumes Ben Affleck and his family in Gone Girl. The ending is inevitable, yet the Greek tragedy aspect adds weight and dignity to these deeply flawed lives. 

It's only Moore as fading, mother-obsessed star, Havana Segrand who doesn't escape complete damnation. Like Madonna… well, pretty much as you\d expect her to be, she's a egotistical harridan who bludgeons her way across the screen. Her end is almost welcome and while all reviews have identified her as the real kinetic force behind the film, I found myself tiring of her 'intensity'. at times. She's brilliant, of course she is, yet such an unsympathetic character diluted the film's important message about how ageing and death haunt each character, like the spectres they glimpse in the wee small hours. At one party young Weiss' two girlfriends cackle about anyone over 30 being 'menopausal'. It's a world where time is both literally and figuratively catching up with everyone. And while this is by no means Cronenberg's best moment (I've been so sick of every geeky hipster critic waxing nostalgic DC's early body horror shockers - as if he's not allowed to stray into serious cinema - while letting us know how well-versed they are in his work. Idiots) it's, as always, reliably intriguing, wonderfully performed and as creepily funny as everything else he's made in the last ten years. But then, I thought Cosmopolis was near-genius. Feel free to disagree. 

And while I've just written a huge amount on the reasons why cinema will survive (goddamit) - I also get the feeling that what links these two films is that they dare to say 'cunt' a lot. Something you still can't get away with on TV.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New broom...

A little housekeeping on my own 'work': I've just updated my Bandcamp page, and added some new (old) music under the pretentious title of Noble Truths, mainly because there are four main tracks, born of suffering (hoho). Actually they are reclaimed from an abortive project that I completed earlier this year.

This house-clearing activity precedes a brand new project which will be complete in about two weeks. Watch this space...

Monday, October 06, 2014

Lousy Song - Great Solo (#2)

This man changed history
In the spirit of moving things along I thought I'd jump straight back in with another of this new occasional series highlighting terrible songs that still have some redemption in the shape of twangy goodness at their hearts.

In fact, it was while researching the previous inaugural piece that I discovered the dark secret behind this particular song. Reading an interview with Brian Setzer (probably best known to my generation as the blonde leader of rockabilly one hit wonders, The Stray Cats) I stumbled across the tragic back story behind one of my least favourite singles in the history of recorded music: 'Rock Around The Clock' by Bill Haley and his Comets.

Setzer, listing his five favourite solos of all-time, chooses a selection of predictably 'jumpin'' numbers that fit right in with his (admittedly hugely enjoyable - the man really is a great musician) jive-friendly profile. I was surprised that in amongst the Cliff Gallup and Eddie Cochran credibility was Haley and his Comet's workmanlike if record breaking, err... record.

I'm fully aware of the song's importance as the first real rock 'n' roll crossover hit in 1954. Written two years earlier by Max Freedman and James Myers and originally recorded, not by Haley and his combo, but by the awfully-monikered, Sunny Dae and his Knights; the song was rock's first number one hit and unquestionably opened the door to far more exciting fare from the genre's most exciting pioneers, from Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Yet at this distance the song sounds even more bland and ersatz as it did in my youth. My particular generation couldn't escape the simplistic 12-bar tedium of it, even in the '70s, as I distinctly remember it being re-released (undoubtedly as a 20 year anniversary celebration) and gaining the top spot in the UK charts all over again. Happy days.

And while one may argue that 25 million plus copies sold is proof enough that this is a great song, its anachronistic jump jive delivery and hokey lyrics seemed (to me) obviously cooked up to cash in on something that was already well underway amongst the youth of '50s America. Not only that, but Haley and co. looked like creepy uncles in their matching tartan drape coats and receding hairlines. This is remarkable because when Haley recorded the song for Decca he was still under 30. In fact he was only 55 when he died in 1981 (seemingly of alcoholism) - but I well remember thinking that he looked about a million when he reappeared on the TV screens in the early '70s. People really DID age faster in those days...

But I'm not here to bash poor old Bill but to deconstruct the song that, once it was featured in the following year's Blackboard Jungle, became a three-minute encapsulation of wild, untamed teens, drinking soda, ripping up cinema seats and sassing back to their moms and dads. Its attendant hour-counting lyric was tailor-made for dividing the song into three verses (four hours apiece, natch), not unlike Eddie Cochrane's similarly brain-dead 'Twenty Flight Rock', wherein our hero climbs some stairs, leaving him too knackered to 'rock' (hehe). But Eddie looked, sounded and played like a proper lithe young rock 'n' roll idol. Haley's Comets deliver a strangely lumpy melange of rockabilly slap bass and big band bluster. Coming from a country background the song's instrumentation was also odd: marking some evolutionary mid-point that prefaced the stripped-down approach that set teenagers free to make their own racket. One look at film of the band taken at the period shows the line-up boasting not only an ACCORDION player, but also a pedal steel guitar. I'd argue that until the late '60s and the birth of true country rock via The Byrds and The Grateful Dead, this instrument had no place in the birth of youthful rebellion*.

And it drags terribly. Every time this came on the radio (and due to its lack of fade out) you HAD to hear all 12 hours of the dreadful thing, and it seemed like three minutes lasted an eon. Listen today to 'Great Balls of Fire' or 'Tutti Frutti' and adrenaline still stirs in these ageing veins. This was never the case for 'Rock Around The Clock'. And yet a whole previous generation, from John Lennon to David Gilmour, went on record to say how their lives were irrevocably altered by this one song. Why?

Well, obviously in 1954, the radio was ostensibly a wasteland, devoid of up-tempo thrills beyond the odd jived-up country number from the likes of Hank Williams ('Move It On Over' bears a striking resemblance to RATC), jump blues of the likes of Louis Jordan (early rock 'n' roll's true precursor), rare airings of bop jazz or really turbo-charged big band fare. So Haley and his band - scoring the first mainstream airplay for rock - must have sounded pretty radical in comparison. But only up to a point.
Danny Cedrone

I'd argue that the real gravy lay in the guitar solo that transports the song into a much more dangerous realm. And here's where the story gets tragic. It turns out that this arpeggiated beauty was performed by Danny Cedrone, a jazz-influenced session man who led his own band (The Esquire Boys) and who played sessions for Haley, when his band were called The Saddlemen. It was this band who recorded a cover version of 'Rocket 88', a song which lays claim to being one of the first rock 'n' roll songs ever written (in 1951). As to why Cedrone's superb solo represents a tragedy? Well, a mere week after the session was recorded, the man fell down a flight of stairs and fatally broke his neck at the age of 33.

Thus one of the first (if not the first), most influential and best electric guitar solos in history belongs to a man who never even lived to hear it played on the radio or earn a single cent of those 25 million sales. And what's more, it's in the middle of a lousy song. Life, readers, is NOT fair at all.

*I'd also argue that the accordion has no place anywhere, but that's a different issue altogether

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Maybe I'm a Leo*

The current re-acceptance/re-evaluation of the currency of progressive rock (or Prog) as a genre worthy of our renewed attention seems to have reached some kind of critical mass in the last couple of years. Magazines devoted to the subject; award ceremonies; endless deluxe reissues**; approval from indie bands who should know better; young bands with sixth form poetry names and Hipgnosis rip-off album covers; even Caribbean cruises, ferrchrissakes... I leave it to you to decide as to whether this is a good thing, but it cannot be denied that for anyone with more than a passing knowledge of the whitest popular music of the last fifty years there have been some fucking hilarious reminders of why, way back in its heyday, it came to be regarded as something of a joke.

One of the undeniable joys of life is watching This Is Spinal Tap, but I worry that a generation introduced to its pleasures these days may think that the antics of the Tap are some kind of extreme cartoon comedy version of the life of a band on the road in the '70s, and may not realise how close to reality the events depicted are. Rob Reiner's 'rockumentary' succeeded so well on its first release because just about everything that happens to the band is ridiculously close to the preposterous self-importance with which the music business took itself all those decades ago. This affectionate (and it is as affectionate as much as it is thorough) document is drawn from so many actual events that it's impossible to list them here, but as one example I draw your attention to this ELP documentary: The Manticore Special - a 1973 TV documentary which features several segments which Reiner et al HAD to have seen when preparing Spinal Tap. Carl Palmer's petulance regarding the quality of his hotel pillows is quite obviously the template for Nigel Tufnel's dressing room pre-show tantrum regarding the food on the rider. You're just waiting for him to say 'I've got this, and I don't want this'.

Anyway: this is digression. The reason I bring all this up is because I came across another splendid reminder of the high seriousness with which bands marketed themselves in the mid-'70s (just prior to the commercial reckoning/come-uppance that could only result from such hubris).

Another recent release in the seeming production line recontextualising of music from the era: Steven Wilson's remix of Yes' 1975 album, Relayer, is announced via the band's official website on a page that contains the tour programme that supported the promotion of the album. And it makes for superbly funny reading.

The tour programme begins with a reasonable biography of the band up until that point: from their beginnings as a post-psych bunch of ambitious chancers raised on Beatlesque consciousness-expansion and Simon and Garfunkel (a duo who seem to have been airbrushed from history with regards to their monumental influence on all popular music at the close of the '60s) to their then-zenith as stadium-stuffers.

It's at this point that the chuckles begin. A member-by-member bio consisting of a questionnaire-style series of answers to things such as 'musical influences', 'instruments played' etc. all seem fairly straight forward (and it's worth remembering that this was the standard format for most bands' tour programmes at the time - I have a very similar one somewhere in which Be Bop Deluxe answer very similar questions). But closer inspection reveals the level of contradiction and sheer nonsense that surrounded what was mainly a bunch of superannuated, self-taught 'musicians' (apart from Patrick Moraz: it seems that it was always the keyboards which demanded a more rigorous educational standard. No wonder they're always the snooty ones).

Starting with 'Maestro' Jon Anderson (as Bill Bruford once referred to him), we see a fairly unpretentious set of facts. A Scorpio from Accrington, this northern soul regards his influences as 'anything good and moving.' Fair enough, but then take a look at his 'Most influential LP's' (the apostrophe is theirs) - it's the usual bunch: Beatles; Simon and Garfunkel, Mahavishnu Orchestra (Relayer, of course, being the most jazz rock of all the band's albums) etc. until right at the end there's a nod to the obligatory classical stuff. To whit: '... and any of Sibelius, Stravinsky, Mozart, Ilhan Mimaroglu'

Woah... hold on there, Ilhan Mimaroglu?!?  Turkish avant garde electronica? Well, he was a house producer for Atlantic records at the time...

To continue; guitarist, Steve Howe, is also self-taught (and an Aries), his songwriting influences are 'personal experiences'. Deep stuff. But as I say, it's the details which draw you in. One of his favourite 'songwriters' is John Dowland (1563-1626) (note the need to include the DATES), after which he lists not only Verdi's Four Seasons as his favourite album, but notes the CATALOGUE NUMBER. 

Chris Squire, appropriately for someone nicknamed 'The Fish' is a Pisces, and to be fair doesn't seem to be too up himself (which is possibly ironic as he's the most upper middle class of the lot). Meanwhile Gemini drummer, Alan White is doing ok until you find out that his 'Songwriting inspiration' is 'The World' and his 'Most influential LP' 'The big disc in the sky.' Good grief...

As if the astrological guff (which, of course, reappear in Spinal Tap in the form of David St Hubbins' girlfriend, Janine) and sense of self-importance conveyed here weren't enough, we then (after a run-down of the stage crew) get treated to an 'essay' by friend of the band, Donald Lemkuhl entitled (and I wish I was making this up): When life speaks, its voice is music. Listen.

Lemkuhl was also a pal of the band's in-house designer at the time, Roger Dean (who along with his brother Martyn, designed the stage sets for this tour and which gets parodied, again in Spinal Tap, as the 'pods' in which bassist, Derek Smalls, gets trapped). He specialised in this kind of airy-fairy cosmic-speak, writing not only the the introduction to Dean's own first book, Views, but also 'composing' the poem which appeared on Relayer's cover as well as on the promotional advert. Another fine example of those far-off moments when ambition outstripped self-awareness. 

Lemkuhl's prose in the tour program featured here features gems such as:

'It is the voice life in you. All music is your music. All music creates you and re-creates you. And you create music. Through music, you are creator and created in One.'

Later he concludes: 'You are more than human when you let the music become you. Listen. You are in tune with space. You become the music when the music plays.

So, listen. The air is full of music. You hear the music, now, for you are the music. And the music is you.'

Thanks, Donald. No really, thanks.

So, kids, your parents or elderly relatives may at some point insist that you watch Spinal Tap, and you may come away wondering why such a silly film is in any way important. 

Remember: it's not a comedy, it's a LESSON. We can only avoid this kind of thing by learning our history.

Don't say I didn't warn you...

*I'm a Virgo btw
**At some point I may get around to writing a serious piece on why I decry these endless 5.1/Blu-ray blah blah remixes. In short: I see no point in essentially reinventing (and radically re-imagining) their basic structure of works which, for their time, were noted as 'state of the art' productions - meaning that anyone discovering them for the first time now will hear something which really bears no relation to the original music as exoperienced by the audience back then. It seems a bit like reading a Dicken novel in 2014, re-written by J K Rowling.