Five Things, Wednesday 17th September

Poignant & Strange

ClubsFrom Stylist: “Photographer Antonio La Grotta’s project, Paradise Discotheque, revisits Italy’s out-of-town superclubs, made for thousands to dance through in the Eighties and Nineties, but now out of fashion and abandoned. Sad and beautiful.”

These Foolish Things
At Michael Gray’s Dylan Weekend (more on this next week!) Michael put this on his grand hi-fi as a sort of quiz, which of course I can’t do here, for as soon as you click on the link you’ll see who it is. I tumbled it somewhere in the second verse – his phrasing and styling is just terrific and the fantastic ramping up of emotion for the last verse (helped along by the drummer) is an object lesson in soul tension.

Mark Porter has designed a new digital magazine, thelongandshort
…and their music column is based on a blog called Song Exploder, a great idea where an artist talks about how their song was constructed. The first features Daedelus (Alfred Darlington to his mother) talking about “Experience”. And while listening to that, try to get your head around how digital magazines actually work. I always feel like a dunce with digital magazines – I keep getting lost – but I’m sure that I’ll get the hang of it soon…

The Lost Genius of Judee Sill, R4
I finally get round to listening to this sorry tale. I always liked her strange way with melodies, using climbing or descending bass runs on the guitar or piano to lace her songs with nagging hooks, so that you still remember them twenty years later. A left-field songster with a weird baroque/gospel sensibility, her work didn’t sit happily in with the Laurel Canyon lot, or with anyone else, for that matter.

David Hepworth had this to say: “Sill made a couple of very good albums for Asylum in the early 70s. She had a song called “Jesus Was A Crossmaker” that was almost celebrated at the time. Celebrated, at least, among the people who might have watched Old Grey Whistle Test or read the Melody Maker… Sill died in 1979. There had been a lot of sadness in her life: drugs, accidents, abuse. When that happens there’s always the chance that thirty-five years later Radio 4 will commission a programme about you called The Lost Genius Of Judee Sill.

But here’s the thing. When acts make it big they take is as proof of their talent. They did it on their own. When they don’t make it big they always blame it on something or someone specific. The record company went out of business, the radio banned us, the drummer left, there was a strike, there was an oil crisis or a war, there was somebody who had it in for us. If the artists don’t make such a claim then enthusiasts have to make it for them.

The story here is that Sill outed David Geffen, the boss of her record company, on-stage. In this narrative he had his revenge by dropping her from the label. I’m not sure the record business works like that. It’s more likely that his company had put out the two albums they were obliged to release under the terms of Sill’s contract, records which hadn’t sold. Therefore they decided their money would be better spent on somebody else.

Simon Napier-Bell was talking the other night about how performers have a combination of self-belief and chronic insecurity which you would consider mad if you encountered it in a member of the public. This same egoism drives them to believe that the only thing standing between them and widespread acclaim is some kind of wicked plot… rather than accept the truth, which is that we, the public, weren’t really bothered one way or the other. We’re the villains, not the mythical “suits” or the tin ears at radio. Our natural state is indifference. We bought some other music or we didn’t buy any music at all. We forgot. We passed by on the other side. We have lives in which your career doesn’t figure at all.”

Robin Thicke Charms World, Again.
“I was high on Vicodin and alcohol when I showed up at the studio. So my recollection is when we made the song, I thought I wanted, I, I, I wanted to be more involved than I actually was by the time, nine months later, it became a huge hit and I wanted credit,” Thicke said in the statement. He added that he was no longer taking Vicodin. And, presumably, now that Marvin Gaye’s lawyers are suing, no longer keen on taking credit either.

Extra! Listening to Len some more
Check out “Nevermind”, from Popular Problems, and prepare to anoint Leonard C and Patrick L the John le Carré’s of popular song.



  1. Peter Hamshaw says:

    Not sure why, but James Brown’s These Foolish Things was, I believe, the first time I’d heard that song and I hadn’t heard much by Mr Brown at that point. I still love it, ie. the song (many other versions) and many of Mr Brown’s other recordings.

    • I’d always liked his ballad singing, too Peter, especially on the brilliantly titled “Thinking about Little Willie John… and a Few Nice Things”, but had unaccountably never stumbled on “These Foolish Things”.

  2. John Pidgeon says:

    Why we didn’t make it, no 23: the record charted during Ramadan when no one was doing overtime at the EMI pressing plant in Hayes, so they couldn’t keep up with the demand.

  3. What a beautiful track. I had the pleasure of seeing the Get On Up movie this week, and must say that Chadwick Boseman’s performances as JB is astonishing. The body language, hunched up and then explosive, the slurred speech rhythms, and the dazzling dancing are captured brilliantly. (For an amusing account of what it was like to interview JB, see this post by Philip Gourevitch at The New Yorker, replete with audio clip from interview: ) Director Tate Taylor (who made The Help) chooses to fragment the narrative, moving back & forth in time, which will irritate some people but has the virtue of avoiding the cliché of the biopic: you know what’s going to happen next. And there is one startlingly beautiful moment when JB sings in a tender, lyrical soul style. At film show, producer Mick Jagger did a Q&A. Mick recalled that when he talked to JB, he didn’t think JB had any notion of what the Stones were doing musically. Mick said, “He didn’t have much awareness of what the Beatles were doing as far as I can make out.”

    • Can’t wait, Mick… love the Gourevitch piece (“his diction—a gravelly, half-swallowed slur whose viscosity has increased through the decades, in lockstep with his pursuit of perfect dentistry”) and the great bit where he says, “A lot of wondrous things that Mr. Brown said went into that Profile, but it’s always terrible, when you look back, to see how much of your best reporting you have to leave out to write your best pieces.” Thanks for pointing me towards it, and your excellent capsule review of the film!

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