Friday, April 6th

ONE THE MOST SOULFUL AND MOVING PIECE OF MUSIC…
that I heard this week wasn’t sung, it was spoken. It was in Clarke Peters’ fine edition of Soul Music on Radio Four, Songs of the Civil Rights Movement. In the section on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”, a dusty, dry-as-paper voice starts speaking in restrained cadences, taking its own solemn time to tell its tale.

“My name is L. C. Cooke, I’m the brother of the late, great Sam Cooke. Well I know you remember “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan… Sam always said a black man shoulda wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind”. And he sat down and wrote,

I was born by the river
in a little tent
But just like the river
I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time coming
But I know
Change gonna come

and he said, “A Change is Gonna Come” was the hardest song he ever wrote in his life.” Cooke quietly gave the proceeds of the song to Martin Luther King and the Movement, but in his dignified way, L.C. won’t make more of that. “See, when Sam did something, he didn’t want to brag about it, you know… and so I’d really rather not talk about that.”
[It’s available on the iPlayer now].

TWO “COOL MODERNISM” AT THE ASHMOLEAN
A small and perfectly formed exhibition, on ’til July 22nd and highly recommended. As we left the gallery and made our way downstairs, passing the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Gallery (an exploration of the meeting of the West with the East through European exploration from 1492 onwards), I see a display of guitars and violins. It includes these three beautiful examples, with the central instrument being one of the few examples of a Stradivarius guitar. I had no idea that such a thing existed. Here and here are examples of what they sound like.

strad

THREE GOSPEL BOB
Watching Trouble No More, the documentary/feature about the Gospel Years (sermons okay, music strangely inflexible) you couldn’t miss Dylan’s intense commitment to the material. Coated in sweat, he prowled and preached to the crowd. Best bit may well have been the harp solo at the end of “What Can I Do for You?” It wasn’t quite at ’66 levels of brilliance, but it provided a moment where the music went out on a limb, and towards the end resolved around the beautiful melody of “That Lucky Old Sun” – later to become a feature of the gospel tours.

FOUR A MUSICAL FREE FOR ALL
I was struck by this paragraph near the end of Original Rockers by Richard King, an elegiac account of his time working at Bristol’s Revolver Records in the mid 1990s:
“Visitors to the shop from outside Bristol would return months later, enriched by the experience of buying music that, before conversing with Roger, they had previously been unaware of. They treasured the atmosphere of enquiry and compulsion at the counter, even if it felt intimidating, and departed smiling and enlivened, carrying their purchases in the black and red-and-black Revolver bag, sure that in doing so some mutually appreciated form of status had been conferred. In turn, they brought their particular enthusiasms to the counter for discussion and used the opportunity of loitering in the shop to broaden their musical knowledge.”
When this was written (in 2015, about the mid-1990s) it was already nostalgic. Now, in the era of streaming, it feels that it’s come from the time of Jane Austen… Now the tech companies piggyback on the creative work that others have made, and become rich, by co-opting us into their business, while the creators, for the most part, make little. Read Amanda Petrusich in this week’s New Yorker, and weep.

nb. When I texted my friend Tim (he was at Bristol University) he replied: “A fantastic memoir, made even stranger by the fact that I worked at Revolver for a while. Highlights for me included a two-month stint when Chris the then manager insisted that Ornette Coleman’s “Dancing in My Head” was the first record played every morning. He also refused to stock the first Dire Straits album and badly abused anyone who dared ask for it.”

FIVE THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE
Creepy and greedy, Andrew Cunanan (compellingly played by Darren Criss) drives his would-be husband and will-be next victim, David, across the flatlands of Minnesota. They arrive in a bar, postponing the inevitable, and the singer on the small stage at the end of the bar sings, straightforwardly, “Drive”, the Cars song best known for its use as the soundtrack to films of the Ethiopian famine during Live Aid. It’s Aimee Mann, strumming an Epiphone J160E, a guitar synonymous with John Lennon due to featuring on the Help! movie songs. I’m not saying that’s deliberate (she has played that model for a long time), just interesting. And the song is perfect for the scene:

“Who’s gonna tell you when / it’s too late.
Who’s gonna tell you things / aren’t so great.
You cant go on, thinkin’ nothing’s wrong,
But who’s gonna drive you home tonight?

As Cunanan breaks into tears, Mann improvises something close to the melody of “Save Me”, one of her songs that inspired (and were used in) Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, adding yet another layer to this small interlude.


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Comments

  1. mick gold says:

    Martin,

    You write very well about the musical significance of one of the most haunting moments in The Assassination of Gianni Versace. But I must confess that although I’ve seen several episodes I’ve failed to enjoy the series. The same team made the brilliant The People vs O J Simpson, which explored so cleverly (and sympathetically) the sub-plots of race and class and gender that criss-crossed the story of OJ and the LAPD. Yet with Gianni Versace I just find myself depressed by the moral nihilism of the central character. It comes close to a true life version of The Talented Mr Ripley but not a very enjoyable watch imho.

    As for Bob’s Gospel documentary, the music is marvellously committed – as you say. The message is often bleak and unforgiving, but I can’t help thinking it would have been a braver move if Bob had included some of the strange sermons he really preached on stage:

    “Russia will come down and attack in the Middle East. China’s got an army of two hundred million people. They’re gonna come down in the Middle East. There’s gonna be a war called the “Battle of Armageddon” which is like some war you never even dreamed about. And Christ will set up his kingdom. He will set up his kingdom and he’ll rule it from Jerusalem. I know, as far out as that might seem, this is what the Bible says. [Audience: “Everybody must get stoned!”] I’ll tell you about getting stoned. What do you want to know about getting stoned? [Mixed shouts] Alright, what you’re gonna need is something strong to hang on to. You got drugs to hang on to now. You might have a job to hang on to now. You might have your college education to hang on to now. But you’re gonna need something very solid to hang on to when these days come.” (26 November 1979)

    Instead we get Luc Sante’s literary concoctions based on recorded sermons from the 1930s and 40s. They’re ably performed by Michael Shannon, but much more conventional than Bob’s dark imaginings.

    And one MOAN, we are told the story of the record store owner who insulted any customer with the nerve to ask for a Dire Straits record as testimony to his musical integrity. But isn’t Mark Knopfler’s guitar on Slow train Coming a big part of why it’s Bob’s best Gospel record? Anyway, great blog…

    • Thanks, Mick, always a treat to hear from you. I should have made it clearer that we don’t much like TAGV either, for exactly those reasons. As for Bob’s Sermons, I have my tiny book of those, and they are indeed fascinating… And it’s true that Mark Knopfler is a great guitarist – I guess Dire Straits bad luck was to soundtrack the Middle Class Dinner Parties of the 80’s [See also Sade}.

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