Five Things, Sunday December 8th

{ONE} RIP EL TEL
One of the nicest people that I’ve ever worked with was Terry O’Neill, a genuinely good guy who’d come up through the press ranks and never regarded himself as anything more than a “smudger”, Fleet Street slang for (in those pre-paparazzi days) a news photographer. I sent Terry down a Cornish cliff to take a portrait of a rescued boy in a sea cave, not realising that at the time he was suffering with the inner-ear condition, Vertigo. No complaints – it took his assistant to tell me. When I saw Time’s obit, it took me back to the day in 1988 when he photographed Charlotte Rampling for The Sunday Times Manual of Photography – we’d hired another Fleet Street great, Michael Ward, to be a fly on the wall to document Terry’s technique. I’m just out of shot here, but I treasure Michael’s picture of me talking to Terry about Jazz (he had ambitions to be a drummer before he fell into photography).


{TWO} EARNEST. WEIRD. AND AWESOME.
From the always interesting Cover Me website, on versions of the songs on Court and Spark. This excerpt is about “Free Man in Paris”. I think it’s such a personal song, about a very particular person, that it makes no sense for anyone other than Joni to sing it, but I hadn’t reckoned with Neil Diamond.

“I felt unfettered and alive.” Has there ever been a better description of freedom in song? Its famed subject, Joni’s then-record label boss David Geffen, didn’t want it included on Court And Spark because of the allusion to his sexuality within the lyrics. While it’s a subtle reference, within a love letter of a song, that seems tame now, in the early ’70’s admissions like this were still regarded as career suicide, and that’s what the up-and-coming music biz star Geffen was concerned about. Of course, he acquiesced in the end, and the world was blessed with a song widely regarded as one of Joni’s true classics… There have been some pretty high-profile and entertaining covers of “Free Man,” especially the faithfully fabulous Elton John, the camp and vocally virtuosic Rufus Wainwright, and the off-kilter fun-shine of Sufjan Stevens. They are all great, but Neil Diamond’s unhinged disco-rock-Broadway version from a 1977 episode of Soundstage is so earnest, weird, and awesome, so far from the sound of the original, that it has to be both heard and seen to be believed.


{THREE} “HE’D LOVE TO COME UP AND PLAY THE PIANO WITH YOU…”
As Elton John’s biography, Me, was released, Wreckless Eric told this brilliant tale. “I’m mentioned in Elton John’s book”, it starts, quoting a passage: “One day I’d be perfectly happy at home, telling anyone who’d listen about how wonderful it was not being shackled to the old cycle of touring, delighting in the free time that allowed me to concentrate on being chairman of Watford FC. The next, I’d be on the phone to Stiff Records, a small independent label that was home to Ian Dury and Elvis Costello, offering my services on their upcoming package tour, which they accepted. My sudden urge to get in front of an audience again was bolstered by the fact that I had a crush on one of their artists, Wreckless Eric – sadly, he was nowhere near wreckless enough to get involved with someone like me.” 

Then Eric tells of what Elton meant to him, and how terrifying it was when he heard that Elton wanted to produce his next album… Read it here


{FOUR} HEY JOE, SMITH!
There was a wild interview by David Browne in Rolling Stone with Warner Brothers’ Joe Smith who died, aged 91, last Monday. Smith talked about signing and working with the Grateful Dead. Here’s an excerpt…

Was the band’s drug use a concern to you? No. It was the culture of San Francisco. I was in the Army and went to college. I said, “Now, this is the way it is — accept it.” I didn’t want to get involved with it. It was a funny relationship. They always said I would never understand their music until I dropped some acid. And I said, “No! I will not eat or breathe around you!” They were playing a club in New York on one of those 80-below-zero nights. After I went to dinner I went to the show and it was freezing and they were on a break, and Pigpen said, “Let me get you some coffee.”
I said, “No, I’ll get my own coffee.”
They once asked me, “Why don’t you invite us to your house?”
I said, “I don’t want you on my street!”
We weren’t best friends but we established a relationship. Garcia was a sensible, gentle guy. Bobby Weir, too. But I was dealing with lunatics, you have to understand. They drifted in and out of reality depending on the amount of acid they dropped at the time. It was, “We don’t want ads.” They wanted us to go up to [Golden Gate Park] and give out apples to the crowd. That was going to be the promotion.
What do you recall of the problematic making of their second album, Anthem of the Sun? They made the first album. I wasn’t thrilled with it. I said, “Whatever’s going on there isn’t coming out on the record, so we’ll do another one.” They wanted Dave Hassinger to produce because he had worked with the Stones. [The experience] was terrible. They were so undisciplined. You’re in the studio and the clock’s running. If you want to do this at home, go home and fuck around. But don’t do this at a recording session with all the equipment and engineers. Hassinger called me. I was in touch with him all the way. He was unhappy. They said, “We’ll go to L.A. on a smoggy day and record 30 minutes of desert air and that will be the rhythm track.” What?! They’re all looking at me and I said, “The union won’t let that happen.”
During those sessions, you wrote a notorious letter to the band in which you chastised them and particularly singled out Phil Lesh: “It’s apparent that nobody in your organization has enough influence over Phil Lesh to evoke anything resembling normal behavior.” He was so negative about everything. When I went to meet with the band, he tells me he was very sensitive. I had 60 artists to deal with. I had Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t waste all that time with Phil Lesh!

Smith authored a brilliant book, Off the Record, which used a Studs Terkel-like oral history approach, and is full of fascinating stuff. You can find it on Amazon for around £10 – it’s highly recommended.


{FIVE} SOME MORE RECOMMENDATIONS
1) A fascinating documentary on Earl “Fatha” Hines made in 1975 for the British tv channel, ATV, and shot by Chris Menges and Jimmy Dibling. Kudos to the commissioning editor on that one! Earl is fascinating on working with Armstrong fifty years before, and on how his own unique style developed. As the voiceover says, “What Hines enjoys is the excitement, the bravery, the risk, of jumping headfirst into a tune, and then – in public – having to work his way out again…”

2) If you like what Brittany Howard is doing on the 5 Things Playlist on the right, then here’s more – her NPR Tiny Desk Concert. This excellent series, where artists turn up at National Public Radio’s offices, set up and play, is one of the Internet’s more joyful sites. “Stay High” is a delight, for one number she plays a rather gorgeous Teisco guitar, and the band are having a whale of a time throughout. She’s touring next year. 

3) The Clash: London Calling, is a new free exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the classic album, that opened at the Museum Of London on November 15 and runs through spring 2020. Items on show will include Paul Simonon’s Fender Precision bass guitar that he can be seen smashing on London Calling’s cover and Joe Strummer’s typewriter. Exhibit note that I like best … “Topper Headon’s drum sticks, which are the only remaining items of Headon’s that remain from this time”.


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Comments

  1. And a very good reason to see the London Calling show (apart from Topper’s sticks)? The exhibition was designed by yours truly!

  2. Damn you! I’ve just spent around an hour reading Wreckless Eric’s blog. New to me and I shall be returning to it.

  3. I know, I was happy to stumble across it, too!

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