Tuesday, 15th March, updated 30th March

I failed to post a Five Things before leaving on a trip to the States, so here it is, slightly amended, on our return. Extras to follow on Woodstock & Detroit, people…

“In the meantime, we must turn our attentions to Kanye, who places his personal debt at $53m, explaining to the world: “If I spent my money on my ideas, I could not afford to take care of my family. I am in a place that so many artists end up.” Like various notables before him, Kanye declares: “I wanted the world to know my struggle.” (Then how about writing a $10 book entitled My Struggle? There must be at least 5.3 million ironists who would buy a copy of the German edition.)

Admittedly, his wife did claim this week to be “transferring 53m into our joint account”, but the suspicion must be that Kanye wishes to place himself on a more independent footing than one underwritten by the Bank of Kim. Not that he is against bailouts. In fact, the sense that Kanye is simply too big to fail was my takeout from a series of tweets he posted shortly after the debt ones, imploring Silicon Valley bigwigs to invest in his “ideas”. These ideas remain tantalisingly unspecified, though the past few days of tweeting alone have yielded such standouts as: “I don’t personally like suit jackets any more”, “I believe that Kim is our modern day everything”, and the peerless “super-inspired by my visit to Ikea today”.

But back to his plea for financial intervention. Lost in Showbiz would argue that what is taking shape is nothing less than a new theory of celebronomics: a theory that argues that an entirely free Kanye West market is not the most beneficial model for society. Yes, you can hope that the billionaire private sector plays a part. But governments have a responsibility to intervene at various stages in the cycle in order to provide the shared goal: full Kanye. Thus, far from encouraging thrift in a downturn, the state should actively encourage spending on Kanye West products. I hereby christen this theory Kanyesian economics, in honour of its leading thinker, and implore governments across the world to subscribe to its principles without delay.” – from The Guardian.

From Calum’s likeahammerinthesink blog, this excellence issues forth, complete with a how-to:


  1. Locate obscure lounge album on vinyl…preferably with ‘erotic’ overtones (and in this case with rain effects and bells).
  2. Digitize Track 3, Side 2 (Il se fait tard).
  3. Copy track and reverse copy.
  4. Add echo.
  5. Slow the whole thing down by 50%.
  6. Fade to silence.

And the result? Beautiful. You could do an entire film soundtrack using this method.

The DVD arrives in the post, directed by the excellent team of Stephen Kijak & Mr Paul Marchand. There is so much here, from Pastorious’ love for the guitar playing of Willie ‘Little Beaver’ Hale to his encyclopedic knowledge of big band jazz, learned from his father (a pro jazz singer – “there was no bad music played in our house!”). Loved this bit of Super 8 of an early Pastorious band in Miami, with Jaco on drums…

pastorious As a teenager, the only clothes he owned were two pairs of cords and three t-shirts – a wardrobe that would fit into his Fender bass case. When he joined Wayne Cochran (I’ve said it before, but you just have to check out Wayne Cochran on YouTube), the tuxedo (that all band members had to wear) was too big for his wiry frame, so he’d wear his compete wardrobe under it. Jerry Jemmott interviews him in 1984 for a bass lesson DVD and lists his accomplishments, telling him that a generation of bass players have been inspired by him, and ends up asking him, “How do you feel about that?”. He looks up, slightly lost in a mist and says, “Just gimme a gig!”

Jemmott – bassist on King Curtis (and Aretha) Live at Fillmore West, among a fairly awesome ton of credits – is an eloquent presence throughout: over Jaco duetting with himself on Coltrane’s “Naima”, he says… “that voice, it’s the voice of music, the singer in the horn. It’s not the rhythm section – the rhythm section is there doing the work to support it, we’re  the setting for the ring, to let the diamond shine brilliantly… so our job is to support that stone – but he was able to become a stone, also”. And, at the end of a story about prising the frets off his Fender after his upright bass fell foul of Florida’s humidity, Jemmott says… “And the rest is history!” Pastorious nods, but his eyes drop, and his expression tells the story.
And if, a little like Janis Joplin, his legacy is not quite the sum of its parts, there are still moments of swooning marvellousness. If you’re interested in the art of musicmaking it’s a must-see, despite its sorrowful arc. And I’m no fan of bass solos, but I’ll make an exception for this take on Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” – along with sundry other Hendrix tunes. After a miasma of feedback he quotes “The Sound of Music” before putting the bass on the stage and spraying harmonics until he picks out a delicate melody and walks off, vulnerable in the midst of virtuosity. nb. Don’t miss some hilarious South Bank Show footage of Melvin Bragg introducing the programme’s documentary on Weather Report in the ’80s… Melvyn’s hair is, as always, a thing to behold.

I mean, really, this is some kind of voodoo. I know I have a penchant for this sort of stuff, but this is as good as the HipHop Billboard No 1s from a couple of weeks ago. Every Noise at Once – every genre, every tributary in that genre. Check out Geechy Wiley’s “Last Kind Word Blues”, one of the strangest, most naggingly mysterious blues ever written. You could, as Em would say, lose yourself in the music. Personally, I’m just off to negotiate my way around dark psytrance.*



… do yourself a favour and read this exceptional piece by David Remnick in The New Yorker, on the complex majesty that is Aretha. As the time draws nearer that we all may be able to see the Amazing Grace concerts – as filmed by Sidney Pollack – Remnick pays tribute to America’s greatest voice. As the Prez says, “American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings “A Natural Woman,” she can move me to tears – the same way that Ray Charles’s version of “America the Beautiful” will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed – because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”

* I did. But you’ll be pleased to know that I’m recovered now…

Tuesday, 8th March


If you have yearning for a stripped-back Pink Martini, or a Hall & Oates-sized hole in your musical life, or would even just like a slightly more flexible Rhiannon Giddens, then Lake Street Dive may be your new band of choice. Hipped to them by this, sent straight from the sketchbook of our worthy constituent and Woodstock Correspondent, John Cuneo, executed in his downtime between illustrating covers for The New Yorker. It’s inspired by their new single, “Call Off Your Dogs”. Here’s a live version from the Colbert Show. Dig the Jamerson /Fender bass stylings of the excellent upright bassist Bridget Kearney. Singer Rachael Price has a nice grain to her voice and is tasteful in the best sense of the word. The first clip I saw was this, a cute and sultry live take on “I Want You Back” on a Boston street corner.

…is that if Richard Williams has already written about something then writer beware. So I’m not going to write about either of these: Bill Frisell’s guesting on both Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20 and I Long to See You by Charles Lloyd and The Marvels (I liked this more than Richard, I think, being no expert in Charles Lloyd). And now I can’t write about Ray Stevens’ “Mr Businessman”, one of the great anti-corporate protest songs of the 60s. We were having a conversation about the love of fairly obscure songs from the 60s in the South, and I was saying how much I loved John Fred and The Playboy Band’s “Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)”, and Richard said did I know “Hey Hey Bunny”, which I didn’t, but which is terrific. He then pulled out his iPhone and called up the lyrics to Mr Businessman. Spectacular. Read about it (and Bill & Lucinda & Charles Lloyd, too) here. And finally, am hugely enjoying the Tom Jones bio (written with Giles Smith, and recommended by Richard here), a bracingly honest look at a pop star life.

AeroDrums is their name, avoiding them is your game.

Barbara Ellen in The Observer: “Australian actress Margot Robbie has revealed how she confused Prince Harry for Ed Sheeran at a star-studded party that the royal had gatecrashed. Clearly, both men have red hair, but Robbie says that it was because Harry was “not wearing his crown”. Robbie also revealed that Harry was “offended”, which seems a tad rich. What’s Harry got to be offended about? As it happens, I’ve criticised Sheeran in the past and with just cause. His global success as a singing pyjama case, dribbling saccharine platitudes into the poptastic-sphere, means that the music industry is now obsessed with signing other highly lucrative singing pyjama cases at the expense of different kinds of music. Or, to be technically correct, at the expense of music…”

So this week it’s illustrators sending me illustrations, Mr John Cuneo swiftly followed by the estimable Marco Ventura, depicting Mr West as a religious icon for Rolling Stone. Captures well the slight truculence that always seems to attend Kanye. Now that he’s been outflanked by Kendrick Lamar, he seems in danger of disappearing into the fashion world’s luxe embrace.



Friday, March 4th

So he was not only down in the basement mixing up medicine and making tapes, but squirreling away mountains of artifacts in a hideaway storage facility. Thus the late period curtain-reveal of Bob Dylan’s career continues. This is from the NYT piece by Ben Sisario on Dylan’s huge secret $60 million archive: “Humanizing touches appear, but in small and scattered pieces. There is a wallet from the mid-1960s containing Johnny Cash’s phone number and Otis Redding’s business card. We can see the 1969 telegram from “Peter and Dennis” (Fonda and Hopper, that is) about the use of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” in the film “Easy Rider,” but the response is by a lawyer. Amid these mountains of paper, Mr. Dylan, the man, remains an enigma.”


From Big O: It’s already a big deal to have a celebrity in class but what happens when it is Iggy Pop, 68, who poses nude for your art class? Twenty-one artists, aged 19 to 80, at the New York Academy of Art were greeted by a naked Iggy Pop on February 21, 2016 as the rocker was recruited by the Brooklyn Museum to serve as the class’ nude model. Rolling Stone reported that conceptual artist Jeremy Deller, who was the driving force behind the Iggy Pop Life Class project, said: “For me it makes perfect sense for Iggy Pop to be the subject of a life class; his body is central to an understanding of rock music and its place within American culture. His body has witnessed much and should be documented.”

How nice to see a dynamic B&W photograph used on a concert poster for once…

! morricone

Mick Gold treats me to a viewing of the very affecting Mavis! at BAFTA. Highly recommended for its story of family ties and Civil Rights – for Mavis Staples, it’s always all about the music. No diva-ishness, no dilution – the struggle runs through her like a seam of coal. Most moving moments: a visit to Levon Helm in his studio, rail thin and gaunt, intently listening while Mavis sings to him, and finally being compelled to join in by the beauty of her voice; Mavis talking about Pops with Jeff Tweedy and his son, and feeling the love of another musical family in the projects that they’ve recorded with her.

Other highlights: the least gnomic Bob Dylan interview, possibly ever, and the performances with her current band, a terrific ensemble consisting of guitarist Rick Holmstrom, bassist Jeff Turmes and drummer Stephen Hodges (whose work I mainly knew from the swordfishtrombones-era Tom Waits).

Mick sent me this, from the filmmaker’s notes: Many people have wondered what it was like to ‘meet Dylan.’ WTTW rented a suite in the North Side hotel where Dylan was staying. We invited Mavis and her sister Yvonne to watch the interview; they had not seen Dylan since Mavis sang background on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone for David Letterman’s 10th anniversary show in 1992. Dylan arrived on time and alone. He wore a black riverboat gambler outfit, framed by a black cowboy hat and black gypsy boots. Like a schoolboy, Dylan tiptoed into the room with a shy stride. He carried a single red rose for Mavis. They embraced… Dylan and the Staples had some good times. This didn’t make it into our documentary, but Pervis (who left the group in 1970) recalled Dylan diving off a board at the motel where they were staying during the Newport Folk Festival. “He jumped off the board and his shorts came off,” Staples said. “I went in and got ’em. I thought something happened to him because he had his boots on, too. We got to be friends. We bought some wine, and he wrote “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” on the back of a shirt board.” I asked Dylan about this story. He said it “pretty much sounds right” and that he wrote many songs on many different objects.

In an interesting interview with Noah Schaffer for Arts Fuse, Holmstrom explained his philosophy for backing Mavis: “I really think Mavis sounds best in a stripped down setting because it gives her voice more room to resonate. Plus, a lot of my favorite Staples Singers stuff was just Pops Staples on guitar and their voices, occasionally with bass and drums too. To me, that’s where the deep Staples vocal blend really shines. It’s as if the singers are an orchestra horn section, punching and popping lines, being a lead instrument at times, not just singing “oohs and aah’s.” If you add too much it takes away from what makes it so soulful in the first place. We like to use silence and a bigger range of dynamics than most bands. We try to play really quiet at times so that when we play at medium volume it has an impact, rather than starting on 10 and staying there all night. It also makes it easier on the six singers to really sing rather than strain to hear ourselves. It’s something we have to constantly work on, remind ourselves of.”

If only all health warnings were like this…


Thanks this week to Marc Myers of JazzWax fame for running some fine Terry Cryer shots of Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Ken Colyer this week. Marc had written about Sister Rosetta and linked to the fine BBC documentary about her, so I had sent him the shots out of interest.

Oh, and look out for a Five Things Extra! next week on all the strange Woodstock related events and coincidences that seemed to happen in the last few days.

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