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.

Boom Logistics - Fifth (An Interim Offering) - work in progress

A short note on the latest work from my good friend Simon Hopkins who manages the uncanny act of alchemy (or more accurately spinning gold from of the straw of my own playing) in his ongoing Boom Logistics/Abyssal Labs projects. The latest instalment under construction of Boom Logistics - Fifth (An Interim Offering) - work in progress - is the second full-length album and, as usual, is constructed from disparate sessions recorded at Simon’s Brighton home. As well as my noodling, there’s the usual suspects, Nick Reynolds and Peter Marsh and - making a huge difference to the end results imho - the piano of mutual pal, Steve Morgan. This gives a lot of the sturm und drang of Simon’s dark ambient modus operandi a very German vibe, in places approaching the condition of Cluster. High praise indeed…

Anyway - he’s put the new work into a handy Youtube playlist which you can enjoy here.

It was an honour to take part, as always…

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Lousy Song - Great Solo (#1)

Yes, you read that right: a new series of pieces will unfold in front of your very eyes and yes, you’ve already guessed it, it’s about songs that for multitudinous reasons fail as decent examples of the form and yet hide within them some glimpse - no matter how tiny - of six-stringed greatness. The idea came to me while listening to Peter Frampton’s Comes Alive! late one night (I KNOW) - now there’s a man whose entire career consisted of lame AOR lifted (barely) by a genuine talent for axe wrangling. But we’ll get to the blonde bombshell at some later date. Maybe never… Who cares?

For now, after much prevarication, I’ve decided to kick off this occasional series with a piece on one of the world’s most enigmatic (in the true sense of the word) guitarists - yes, the Black Knight himself (hoho): Ritchie Blackmore

If I’m completely honest, this opening piece for what I hope will be a long and fruitful series of rants, complaints and miserably ill-informed put-downs, reveals one fact: that I’ve been fascinated by Blackmore for years. A few days of immersion in the man’s work reveals a character for whom the word ‘contradictory’ seems to have been invented. Every single quote about him, every single utterance from his own mouth seems to serve merely to either make you despise him or wonder if his entire career has been one of the practical jokes for which he’s renowned. For starters, check out this video interview with Ronnie James Dio - the original singer with Rainbow whose diminutive sword and sorcery schtick made that band such a template for a generation of reality-escaping rockers. It’s quite something: from the allegations of spitting at fans to the fact that he’s a ‘cruel, cruel’ man (and what exactly DID he do to keyboardist Tony Carey? One dreads to think). 

For those not versed in these things, and I’m assuming most of you have stopped reading by now: another FABULOUS example of how perverse Blackmore can be is the fact that he fired Dio because he was sick of his penchant for the fantasy medievalism that peppered Rainbow’s early classics such as ‘Sixteenth Century Greensleeves’ with lyrical guff about ‘crossbows in the firelight’. This from a man who nowadays tours German castles dressed in faux-minstrel garb with the Unicorn-scaring Blackmore’s Night! One might even think that Ronnie invented his famous ‘devil horns’ hand sign as a mark of respect for Blackmore.

To be clear, I have no love for most of the music with which Blackmore’s been associated (more of which, later) but cannot in all honesty deny both his influence and sheer skill. 

As a teenager in the mid-‘70s I was beset on all sides by friends who espoused the genius of the man in black and his prowess on a Stratocaster. And just as with The Eagles and Black Sabbath (both of whom I now ‘get’ at least, if not love, exactly) Purple were, for years, a total mystery. Compared to the pseudo-Tolkienesque bullshit blues rock of Led Zeppelin; the technical wizardry and seeming erudition of progressive acts such as Yes, Genesis or even ELP; the sexual sophistication of David Bowie etc. etc. DP seemed workaday, emptily posturing and with no seeming regard for the awfulness of their album covers (a big point against any band when I was 14 or 15). Certainly, the artwork for In Rock and Fireball still make me snigger uncontrollably.

Listening today I don’t really find much to change that viewpoint. Ian Gillan’s vocals/screeches still grate (as much as they seemingly did with Ritchie himself) and his lyrics beggar belief in their half-assery: stuffed with cliche and crass innuendo. Just try deconstructing the ‘poetry’ of their sensitive epic, ‘Child In Time’. Go on, try. Meanwhile, even when viewed with a post-Spinal Tap eye for irony, something as hateful as ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ (about a hooker that was known to the band and imaginatively originally entitled ‘Prostitute’) seems unacceptable. Actually, this is odd as Gillan in subsequent interviews seems charming, self-effacing and quite an intelligent guy. His words in this interview about how the rest of Purple breathed a collective sigh of relief when they finally were rid of the tyrant guitarist seem to be genuinely heartfelt:

Elsewhere Jon Lord’s heavy-handed Hammond, obviously based on the gruesome template of proto-heavy acts such as (urgh) Vanilla Fudge lend the band a solidity which, when welded to the exciting drive of rhythm section, Ian Paice and Roger Glover, is invigorating; but when exposed in his solos seems clodhopping in the extreme. 

And yet, watching a recent documentary on BBC Four about the ‘legendary’ Made in Japan double live album (a tedious fixture on every turntable at every grim teenage party for a huge part of my adolescence) I was struck at how effective their brand of what is now termed ‘jam rock’ was in the live arena. Footage of them tearing through ‘Highway Star’ - another contender for most inept lyrics of the century, right there - was exhilarating. Paice’s drums are astoundingly deft and Ritchie’s solo during the last third displays all of his plus points and several minus ones as well. Returning to the band’s early ‘70s work I was amazed at how much of that nonsense had remained in my head. And how, well, enjoyable, his playing seemed. 

One thing IS clear: that Ritchie always knew that he was - to every band he was ever in - their meal ticket and that he didn’t really care who he hurt while exploiting his position of power. Ian Gillan’s remarks about how psychologically damaging it was for Jon Lord et al to endure Blackmore’s petty tirades and petulant walk-outs during their ill-fated reunion of 1993 is well backed up by this video of their performance of ‘Highway Star’ during their last gig as the mark II line-up. Watch as Ritchie doesn’t even bother to come on stage until his solo, leaving the remaining four to brazen it out for the first five minutes. And then when he does appear he showboats like an egomaniac before throwing a glass of water over a cameraman. Classy… 

This performance echoes his famous tantrum at the 1974 California Jam festival where he does a camp jig on his guitar and smashes a TV camera with the self- same Fender. Me and my good friend Peter Marsh always enjoyed watching this ‘performance’ late at night after refreshments. Allegedly he was annoyed at the TV producer, not the cameraman as he explains in (possibly) the frankest interview he ever did with Cameron Crowe. The whole thing’s worth reading because you get a tiny glimpse into Ritchie’s rather odd and (again) contradictory world view (‘fuck it, I’m having a great time as a moody bastard’ he says, after flinging a steak across a restaurant). He doesn’t like Jimmy Page’s showmanship, and yet he knows he can blow others off stage due to the showmanship he learned from Screaming Lord Sutch for whom he worked in the mid-‘60s (‘I could be very sexy onstage’)

It was this early career as Page’s rival in London session circles (also working for Joe Meek) that taught young Blackmore his chops and by 1968 he was ready to conquer the world. Research into sundry interviews and articles reveals that his ego was already fully-formed by this point as well. He rated Hendrix’s stagecraft but didn’t really rate him as a guitarist. His distaste is also dished out to Pete Townshend (‘overrated’) as well as the aforementioned Page. However he respects and loves Jeff Beck, if only for his four-fingered fretting technique. Indeed, the man’s own technique by the late ‘60s was in that bracket marked ‘scary’. With the pre-Gillan and Glover (and Stratocaster!) line up of Purple mark 1 you realise that, if he’d have given two hoots for it, he could have very possibly been a great jazz guitarist.

But no, for Ritchie it was the RIFF that beckoned, and here we come to the crux of the matter. His riffs are STUNNING. His solos are tasty too, but between 1970 and 1978 he effortlessly helped lay the ground rules for hard/heavy rock while inadvertently (and unfortunately) also paving the way for what we now know as ‘shredding.’ That solo on ‘Highway Star’ basically contains the seed for every tedious guitar solo that Yngwie Malmsteen and his hideous ilk have churned out ever since. Yeah, thanks for THAT, Ritchie…

Never mind, all that, the fact remains that Blackmore’s use of a Strat and a Marshall amp, eschewing the central pick-up for a more honest throaty roar, mixed with fluid arpeggios, still can set fire to your ears, after all these years. Claiming to love classical music more than most of his contemporary acts led to some hilariously misguided attempts to ‘class up’ his flash, but one listen to the unbelievably catchy riffage of ‘Never Before’ on Machine Head or ‘No, No, No’ or ‘’Demon’s Eye’ on Fireball are enough for me to cement his reputation as a guitarist, if not his standing as a decent chap. Here he is providing the only thrills in the overlong ‘No, No, No’ live on German TV. Also note the fact that he appears to be having fun. This was not to last…

What’s more surprising, for a man who has a reputation for being a ruthless taskmaster and all-round venal bastard, is that he’s always been honest about his appropriation of other people’s work as his own. For instance ‘Black Night’’s riff is lifted wholesale from Ricky Nelson’s ‘Summertime’ while the dazzling work on ‘Lazy' from Machine Head is basically a supercharged version of Eric Clapton’s interpretation of Buddy Guy’s ‘Steppin’ Out’. The difference between him and the ‘credible’ work of Jimmy page, is that he was entirely open about his pilfering, to the point where he even ripped off JP’s own ‘Kashmir’ on Rainbow’s ‘Stargazer’. How’s that for cheek? It kinda makes me respect him a little bit more…

Back when the album that ‘Stargazer’ came from - Rainbow Rising (now THERE’S a proper album cover, at last!) - I was in thrall to punk and was in danger of missing out on my West Midland heritage of rock in its loudest incarnation.

Yet my childhood pals in Coventry, siblings Brian and Cathy Gould were patient enough to put up with my youthful snobbery and still let me come along to their beloved hard rock gigs, two of which were, indeed the aforementioned Sabs (supported by Van Halen, believe it or not) and Blackmore with Rainbow. (This raises another divergent point: can you remember when music was important enough to help you actually choose your friends? I spit on modern tolerance and pan-acceptance. I long for the days when an opinion was both acceptable and expected.) 

To be honest, that show at Stafford Bingley Hall will live on in my memory forever. Never had I seen something so preposterous (Cozy Powell’s drum solo on a hydraulic ramp that lifted him over the crowd, coupled with Ritchie’s entirely obvious change of a beautiful vintage sunburst guitar for another cheaper WHITE model before he smashed it into oblivion) and yet so, well… life-enhancing. As far as I could tell as a callow 17-year-old; no one in that hall took any of it seriously, and it felt liberating. This is possibly why metal remains the most enduring of all genres: it allows for pomp, stupidity, visceral thrills and musical mastery of the chosen instrument while never forgetting to laugh at itself. Long live rock ’n’ roll, indeed.

But you’ll notice that I’ve yet to choose the one song from hundreds of albums-worth of grim song craft that lives up to this article’s title. Which to choose? Accepting that his work with early Rainbow verged on the tasteful, if only because Ronnie James Dio really could sing well, and his lyrics, while hilarious at least make sense, it has to be one from Blackmore’s previous band: Deep Purple. And the one I choose is, surprisingly, a number that, live, usually showcased Ian Paice’s drum solo: ‘The Mule’.

The studio version of this track is subsequently half the length of its live compadre from Made In Japan, and it stinks. Allegedly about ‘The Devil’ according to Gillan, the murky lyrics live up to his best/worst. It even begins with a riff (doubled up with Lord on the organ) that’s below par for Blackmore. These riffs were often the only thing that the band had to start a song when they entered the studio, and it makes way for some desultory singing from Gillan that, at least, doesn’t resort to ‘the screech’.  Underlining the paucity of ideas here, Lord then reappears to make some strangely retro-sounding (for 1971) psychedelic organ. There’s really nothing to see here. And then… at the 2’41’’ mark in storms Ritchie with a stuttering marvel of a solo, backed by Paice's clattering funky drums. It’s hair-raising stuff which morphs into some space wailing that decides to get all modal at its finale, a mere minute later, and it’s back into that riff again. Blackmore’s tone, attack and aggression are everything that a rock solo should be, and it bears the mark of the spontaneity that he was renowned for: hating to spend time in the studio at that or at any time, and never writing or preparing his solos. 

It still stands as one of the most astounding minutes in rock history, and it’s there buried in one truly lousy song! 

And what about Ritchie today? He does seem to have mellowed. Anyone who saw the Made In Japan doc will have seen him crack a genuine joke about how he came up with the original riff for ‘Smoke On The Water’ as a baroque lute piece, but the band preferred the more basic version. It was… odd, but then for any outsider Ritchie will always be an enigma. Perhaps this interview (by some German teenager) conducted with his partner, Candice Night, goes some way to shedding light on where he’s at these days. Certainly, the profundity of his Bob Dylan anecdote will live with me for a while. The wig’s still ridiculous, though.

Anyway, I think we’re off to a fine start. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for additions to the series, drop a line below. And remember: you’re all the man!*

*an obscure Ronnie James Dio joke, sorry

Monday, September 29, 2014


I've been running a Wordpress blog simultaneously to this one: primarily for the purposes of writing about more personal growth/spirituality/meditation blah, etc. but have decided that it's all a bit surplus to my already time-hungry social media requirements. And besides: who really cares? But while thinking of the ways to exit gracefully I realised that my interest in Jodorowsky and his use of the Tarot (his Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards is possibly the ONLY book anyone ever needs on the topic, if only for the fact that he uses the deck as a psychoanalytic tool and debunks any foolish notions of 'fortune telling' or 'prophesy' connected to this ancient game/system) had resulted in some rather interesting images, as I tried to contextualise the card of the day into my day-to-day activities. And as I was experimenting with Pinterest's 'widget' options for a client I thought I'd share this lot with you.

My favourite is the one with the Mettwurst.

Follow Chris's board Tarot shots on Pinterest.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


A piece I've been working on for a while and then ran out of gas... maybe it's finished, who knows?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

King Crimson - Elstree

Pat Mastelotto

Yesterday I had the good fortune to be invited to hear the new seven-piece incarnation of King Crimson rehearse at Elstree studios.

It was LOUD...

The visual results are here...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Finding Vivian Maier (2014)

You’d have to be a Touareg tribesperson or deep sea-dwelling creature not to have been alerted to the Vivian Maier phenomenon in the last year or so. The nanny who took at least one Rolleiflex film roll of pictures a day for 30 years and never once exhibited a shot has become big business since the ‘discovery’ of her work by several men from Chicago around 2007 when her vast horde of personal possessions, mainly kept in locked storage, became available for auction. The tens of thousands of negatives which detail her compulsive recording of street scenes - not just from New York and Chicago but also around the globe – now form the basis of a canon of work that is being acclaimed as a lost photographic treasure. Finding Vivian Maier is the second of two documentaries made in the last 18 months to examine both the pictures and, more importantly to those selling you the films, the mysterious back-story that comes attached. It’s a very good film indeed, but what does it tell us about the way in which we create mythology around ‘artists’? About the reasons we take photography? About the nature of art, itself? A lot, as it turns out…

Actually, Finding Vivian Maier most eminently tells us most about the untrustworthy nature of eyewitnesses. Obviously every documentary is fraught with the danger of unreliable narrative, whether it’s in the interviewees’ tales or in the post-production and editing. Within about three minutes Finding Vivian Maier throws up an obvious challenge to credibility by both placing the film’s co-director (and owner of the vast bulk of Maier’s legacy), John Maloof, as central narrator and then by showing us a fabricated sequence to demonstrate him bidding for the legendary boxes of negatives in the auction house (in the BBC’s marginally earlier documentary it’s revealed that Maloof actually won the lot with an ‘absentee bid’ and therefore wasn’t even there at the sale). So hackles are immediately up for anyone who labours under the misapprehension that a documentary tells a tale objectively. For me, the initial resistance was also aided by the fact that Maloof comes across as humourless as well as bearing an uncanny resemblance to a grown-up Phineas Flynn from Phineas and Ferb, but that’s neither here nor there. After the first half an hour Maloof (and fellow director, Charlie Siske) have mostly edged themselves out of the narrative and let the plethora of first-hand accounts of Maier, her eccentricities and work take centre stage.

In doing so Maloof teases out a compelling account; not necessarily of Maier’s own life, but of the lives of the middle classes who gave her a home and allowed her to record their lives alongside her own darker record of street life in America’s major metropolises. Her earliest position work as a nanny - for the Ginsberg family and their three sons – draws the fondest recollections. This was where the obsessively private Vivian came closest to forming permanent bonds with both parents and children and her shots of their leafy lives in the suburbs are a glowing testament to a USA in the midst of its most optimistic period, just before the fall.  Contrasted with her later charges – when not only her own circumstances were reduced, but also following the catastrophic events of the late ‘60s onwards – she emerges as self-possessed, politically engaged and as someone who was actually very good with children.

Again and again commentators are wheeled on to contradict each other. Especially hilarious is the pompous academic who states with absolute certainty that her French accent was fake (her mother was French and she actually lived in France between the ages of six and 12) – even challenging Maloof to read his dissertation on the pronunciation of French vowels (no, really).

But it’s here that any discussion about Maier becomes problematic. For Vivian’s tale is that of a non-artist, made an artist posthumously: a woman who deliberately coveted her own anonymity during her own lifetime and who, as various people state, would have probably hated any whiff of fame or validation. As one letter reveals, she knew she was a gifted photographer, even in her early days, but she never actively sought the recognition which supposedly drives ‘true’ artists in their lifetimes. So is the ‘Maier industry’ (as Alan Yentob calls it in the BBC’s film of her life) a bogus one? Maloof’s answer is to paint himself a loner who battled the art establishment who resisted her acceptance into the history books. It’s the film’s biggest failing, simply because it perpetuates the age-old fascination with creative people who were ‘cruelly’ ignored by their contemporaries.

The idea of a photographer who deigns to share his or her work is doubly ironic in the 21st century, of course. In an age where we clamour for attention, and share everything while beset by dilettantism on every side (even in this blog), the tale of a woman who not only shrouded herself in mystery – even to the point of lying about her origins and regularly changing the spelling of her name – but also seemed blissfully unaware that her exceptional talent could have perhaps paved the way for a career seems so, well… romantic. Again and again we’re asked ‘so who was this woman?’ up to the point where I felt I knew more about her than I’d ever known about, say, Diane Arbus or Lisette Model, both of who’s work Maier had to know of.

 Let’s be clear here: while her pictures are extraordinary, they are by NO means original. A fact no one seems prepared to explore. But naturally, the desire to create a sweeping tragic narrative only serves to get in the way of the work itself. Like Vincent Van Gogh’s ear, her eccentricity serves as a lazy way to understand what may, or may not, be a collection of masterpieces. And if you add to this the startling fact that when her work was unearthed she was still alive (and fading away in a Chicago hospital) it all starts to reek of creepy opportunism.

And while the story of her life was filled with enough dark family secrets and deliberate obfustication to make it utterly compelling, you sensed that such rooting around would have appalled Maier herself. All the muttering about ‘a dark side’ and the fact that she hated to talk about herself just back up Joel Meyerowitz’s claims that to be a competent street photographer these qualities are not just desirable, but essential. In short: Vivian Maier knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it. Meyerowitz comes across as about the only reliable observer of her work and is the only commonality between the two documentaries made about Vivian. As a photographer he explains the skill and the tenacity it took to get such intimate glimpses of American life. He’s also the only one to question the validity of the editorial choices that go into prints made from negatives never even seen by Maier in her lifetime.

With these facts in mind, I’d argue that the Maier phenomenon is rooted in several wrong-headed notions about art and photography. A lot of what fascinates us with Maier’s work isn’t the startlingly brilliant compositional skills or in the recent trend in clinging to and lionising historicity as some part of tendency to hanker after all things ‘vintage’ (I say recent, but this is a quality in modern post-industrial society that’s been around since before Constable painted his mythical Haywain). You could regard this as ironic as Vivian herself wore what her peers regarded as strangely fusty, old-fashioned clothes: primarily, I suspect, to put her subjects at ease as well as repelling any unwanted male attention. Next is the suspect quality of the bandwagon-jumping which leads to her work now selling for between two and eight thousand dollars apiece. Such instant desirability (painfully highlighted by the late appearance of Tim Roth at a swanky gallery opening where he patronisingly explains why he bought a picture of a hobo, because there’s some ‘joy’ beneath the destitute misery of the subject) is nothing more than the twitchings of an over-privileged few, desperate to be arbiters of taste. But you do sense that Maloof is self-aware enough to realise that in many ways he’s lucked out and not above blame. As fellow owner, Jeff Goldstein, explains about their role in the story in the BBC’s film: ‘we’re mostly just trying not to be public assholes’. Luckily, in Maloof’s film, he’s canny enough to retreat from the fray and let the various factions strut their stuff, leaving us with a film that succeeds because it raises more questions than it answers.

The finest example of this is the way in which you emerge with a far more balanced view of Vivian than the people she actually knew, and this all depends on the period in which she was encountered. In later years, if you are to believe the families’ accounts, she was batty, belligerent and borderline abusive. But taken against the obvious issues displayed by the more self-obsessed and tricky children of the ‘70s (and parents, especially in the case of the last family she worked for), one comes away with a feeling that this was a woman who had spent a life only in the service of others so that she could pursue her true calling: the recording of life around her with an exceptional eye, a sense of humour and a deep understanding of the precarious nature of life. It’s no wonder that, as she grew older, her status as a permanent outsider, combined with the fact that the families she worked for became less well-balanced, finally ground her down. This is reflected in the fact that she allowed the Ginsbergs to call her ‘Viv’ whereas the bratty later charges were only allowed ‘Miss Maiers’ (note the added ‘s’). I would imagine that by the late ‘70s she knew that she would die alone and in relative poverty, but this was a price she was willing to pay in the service of a greater muse.

In comparison Alan Yentob’s Imagine series BBC doc  - Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures - is predictably woeful. As with all of this criminally vanity project-like series, it’s redolent with the diminutive, inflated ego of Yentob although, to be fair, he’s far less prominent than usual.  But one senses that it’s he who pushes the first half’s obsession with the bargain-hunter aspect of the ‘Maier industry’. Like a miniature, even more egomaniacal, David Dickinson he keeps probing the owners of Vivian’s legacy (here represented by Ron Slattery and Jeff Goldstein: Maloof was making his own film simultaneously) as to how much money they paid for (and subsequently made on) the pictures and boxes of ephemera. Luckily, just as it really seems as though Yentob is presenting us with a bourgeois version of Storage Hunters, the film finally gets around to giving us some interesting facts which, when tallied with Maloof’s (far better) film make for interesting contrast.

Yet, if there’s one aspect that the BBC version of events excels in, it’s the chronology and background to Vivian’s self-education in photography. You get no sense from Maloof that Vivian ever paid attention to other photographers whereas she not only lived with another female photographer in her early years, but she was known to have studied the masters. And Maloof’s slant of anti-academia is belied by the fact that he was allegedly alerted to the worth of the treasure trove he unearthed by a ‘Californian Art Professor’, according to Ron Slattery, as well as the appearance of at least two heavyweight ‘Maier scholars’.

However as an earlier (and visibly rushed) work it mostly fails.  Falling even more egregiously into the trap of ‘background story’ it ends up feeling not unlike a Catherine Cookson novel; full of illegitimate children and disgraced chambermaids. What it fails to mention is that just about every family under the sun has such skeletons clogging up their closet; especially in the turmoil of the early 20th century. One ends up confused as to whether this is a soap opera-cum-detective tale or a film about the arts  – something which has beset so many recent documentaries (cf: Looking for Sugarman another film which obsesses over the romantic myth of the undiscovered genius).

But if you watch both films back-to-back (as I did) you’ll come away with at least a sense that Vivian Maier was neither more eccentric or strange than the majority of us, and that it’s probably far too soon to be heaping her with plaudits or superlatives. One look at her work speaks far more eloquently than any film could, and that’s not only what she would have undoubtedly wanted, but also what she undoubtedly deserves.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

That holiday.....

Another quick experiment with vintage photos