Tuesday, August 15th

ONE TELL ME THAT IT ISN’T TRUE
“I have been in the industry long enough to know when I’m in the presence of a genius and Chris Martin is just that. In years to come, Britain will look back at him as a modern-day Shakespeare. He is an incredible recording artist, an incredible songwriter, but where he really comes alive is performing live. If you get the chance to see Coldplay live, do it – you ain’t gonna regret it.” – Jay-Z in an interview with The Metro UK, late July 2017

TWO ZIMMER & FRAMES
On the evidence of the first ten minutes, I thought that Dunkirk was going to be virtually dialogue-less. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and all the dialogue does is give voice to the most hackneyed element of war films – that we need narratives to balance the visceral thud and dogfight screams. In many ways, it’s a stunningly immersive film, with Nolan’s bravura time-shifting and powerful visual sense keeping you slightly taut and breathless throughout. Allied to this is Hans Zimmer’s cracking score which seems as if it’s forever on the brink of breaking into soaring melodies and swelling strings but finding itself overpowered and mashed into the noise of cranking machinery and bullets tearing through metal.

From Business Insider: “Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own, with a particularly insistent ticking, and we started to build the track out of that sound. And then working from that sound, we built the music as we built the picture cut. There’s an audio illusion in music called a ‘Shepard tone’ – it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the [Dunkirk] script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals.” Apparently, it helps if you imagine the Shepard tone as a barber’s pole – remember those?

THREE HARRY STYLES?
Distracting to see the ex-1Directioner as one of the soldiers trapped on the beach – his face is distinctive, the part is quite large, and it draws you out of the action as you strart to process it. I have nothing against Harry – he has very good taste in drummers (Sarah Jones, who I saw with Alex Taylor a couple of years ago, is a really considerable talent). But you just keep thinking how many young actors could have benefitted from Dunkirk on their CV.

FOUR MY SENSES ARE FILLED UP ALREADY, THANKS
What in God’s name was BBC4 thinking when they put John Denver at the Wembley Arena in 1979 in a prime time Sunday night slot. What in God’s name was I thinking, watching it? Good Lord, the cheese-fest that is the John Denver songbook made 45 minutes feel like a life sentence. He had a super expensive band with him, the best that money could buy, but even they couldn’t fight their way out of some of the lousiest material ever written in the name of music. No cliche was left unturned by his unctuous persona. “I wanna Rock ’n’ Roll!” he said, strapping on a Gibson 335. There followed a cover of “Johnny B Goode” that was beyond saving, even by James Burton. Aside from Burton, there was Hal Blaine on drums, Jim Horn on sax, Herb Peterson on guitar, Emory Lee Gordy on bass and Glen Hardin on keys. So he basically had Elvis’ band plus Blaine, all in the service of, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy / Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry / Sunshine on the water looks so lovely / Sunshine almost always makes me high.”

FIVE (A) SONG OF THE WEEK 1 THE ROOTS FEAT. BILAL “IT AIN’T FAIR”
So you’re talking about Curtis Mayfield’s wonderfully delicate yet tough vocal tone (and this performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test) and that very night this terrific track is broadcast on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. From the Detroit soundtrack, the upcoming film about the riots of ’67 by Kathryn Bigelow.

FIVE (B) SONG OF THE WEEK 2 DAVID RAWLINGS “CUMBERLAND GAP”
… with Gillian Welch, of course, from new album, Poor David’s Almanac. The most immediate song – no, it’s not the Lonnie Donegan one – is a wonderful Harvest-era Neil Young-like duet that trudges through its Kentucky landscape with backwards guitars and a pentecostal Hammond. (FYI: The Cumberland Gap is a narrow pass through the long ridge of the Cumberland Mountains, within the Appalachian Mountains, near the junction of the U.S. states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.)

FIVE (C) SONG OF THE WEEK 3 GLEN CAMPBELL “GUESS I’M DUMB”
I’d never heard this before, an entirely extraordinary lost pop classic. As Richard Williams writes, “Recorded at the same time as the Beach Boys Today album, it’s a prototype of what we were going to hear on Pet Sounds the following year: a carefully wrought song of tortured self-examination set to an imaginative adaptation of the techniques originated by Phil Spector… the mono mix is a masterpiece. I’ve described the individual elements separately, but you’re supposed to hear them as one giant instrument, as if recorded by a single microphone.”

And this, from Amanda Petrusich’s lovely reminiscence of Glen Campbell in the New Yorker: “I met Campbell once, at the Nashville airport. All of my belongings (including my laptop, which contained an early and otherwise unsaved draft of a magazine feature I’d spent months reporting) had recently been stolen from my rental car. It was parked in a garage downtown; one of its rear windows had been smashed in with a rock. During the ensuing hubbub – phoning the cops, explaining the compromised state of my Kia Sephia to the rental-car agency – my flight back to New York City had departed without me. I was consoling myself by drinking a great deal of beer at an outpost of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the famed Broadway honky-tonk. This must have been in 2009.

I looked up and saw Campbell wandering around with his wife, Kim Woolen. (They’d met on a blind date – he took her to dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, with his parents, and then to a James Taylor concert.) Campbell hadn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s yet, not in any official capacity, but it was clear, even then, that he wasn’t quite himself—that certain ideas or bits of language were receding, drifting out of reach, like paper boats fluttering across a pond.

I approached and brazenly asked for a photograph – I suppose I felt like I had little left to lose in Nashville that afternoon. They were so gracious. You know, it wasn’t that bad, losing my stuff and missing my flight. There would be more stuff, more flights. He threw a big arm around me and we grinned.”

Extra! Detroit, Detroit, got a hell of a hockey team…

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I didn’t write about Detroit after we’d been there in the Spring of last year – it seemed too easy to get things wrong, to be a rubbernecking tourist come to see America’s most famous dying city. Yet that’s not how Detroit appeared to us. Yes, it would take the sort of money only hosting an Olympics or a World Cup would provide to rebuild the infrastructure, and way more than a hipster influx to bring back some neighbourhoods from their desolate brink, but there was a real spirit there, in the University, in the Detroit Institute of Art, in Jack White’s Third Man Record Store on the Cass Corridor, at the great letterpress print shop Signal-Return, and in the Shinola factory, successfully bringing jobs and pride back to the Motor City. Reading Drew Philp’s nuanced piece in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, adapted from his book, about buying a house there (Buying a $500 House in Detroit: bidding on the soul of my city) took me back to the questions of gentrification and industry and community that we talked about as we drove around 8 Mile.

[Above: Downtown from Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney building]

ONE PARTIAL PLAYLIST FROM THE JOE LOUIS ARENA, DETROIT RED WINGS GAME
In a blue-collar, hard rock town, I was hoping for a little more local talent to show up on the soundtrack to our first ever Ice Hockey match. Maybe a little MC5, or some Bob Seger. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Ted Nugent, even (well, on second thoughts, not Ted). Something by those sons of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Iggy and the Stooges. Anything made at the legendary Motown studio a few miles up the Boulevard. Not a bit of it. Here’s what I jotted down during the game.
– “Zorba the Greek”, by Mikis Theodorakis (the stadium is near the Greektown area of Detroit)
– Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” (no surprise there)
– Generic Scary Horror Film Music
– A fair bit of EDM. (Actually a horrible amount of EDM)

– Randy Newman’s “You Got a Friend in Me…”
– Something by Aerosmith, I think

– Soft Cell, “Tainted Love”
– Chubby Checker “Let’s Twist Again”
– The headbanging bit from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
– The strutting bit from Elton’s “Bennie and the Jets”
– And some silent movie/Benny Hill-type musical interludes, usually accompanying a moment of humour. Or a fight on the ice.

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TWO 8 MILE LOW
There was no Eminem heard at the Ice Hockey game, and I guess that it’s stupid to think that they should play some locally-grown music at every game. But it did seem like a lost tourist opportunity that the house that Em grew up in – famous from his first two album covers – is no more. It’s now just an empty lot on Dresden at Eight Mile. We put “Lose Yourself” on the car stereo and stopped to take some pictures…

[Above: Red Wings’ Pennants/Gettin’ down at Dresden]

THREE COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES
The Motown Museum (the studio is in one of eight houses bought by Berry Gordy on West Grand Boulevard) has its feet firmly planted in the glory days of the 60s and early 70s, and is therefore a nostalgic blast. You’re hustled through pretty quickly (as Berry Gordy knows, time is money) and the shop is a strange mishmash of postcards, random CDs and out of date merch, but it’s still a thrill to be in Studio A, to stand under the hole in the ceiling (Motown’s secret echo-chamber) and to see the Gordy’s upstairs apartment in its mid-60s glory, looking for all the world like they’ve just stepped out to take the kids to school.

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FOUR THE BEAT GOES ON
From the obituary of Motown’s Sylvia Moy by Richard Sandomir in The New York Times, about her work with Stevie Wonder: “There was an announcement in a meeting that Stevie’s voice had changed, and they didn’t know exactly how to handle that,” Ms. Moy said in an interview after her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. “They asked for volunteers. None of the guys would volunteer. They were going to have to let him go…” [I said] “Let this be my assignment – I don’t believe it’s over for him. Let me have Stevie.” She said that she asked Mr Wonder to play some of the “ditties” he had been working on, but she heard nothing that sounded like a hit. Then, as she was leaving, he played one final snippet of music for her and sang, “Baby, everything is all right.” There wasn’t much more, she recalled, and she told him that she would take it home and work on the melody and lyrics. With the songwriting help of Henry Cosby, a Motown producer, “Uptight” was completed. In the recording studio, though, there was no transcription of the lyrics into Braille for Mr Wonder to read from. So Ms Moy sang the words to him through his earphones. “I would stay a line ahead of him and we didn’t miss a beat.”

[Above: Moy, Wonder, Jamerson, Van Dyke and White in Studio A / Visiting Studio A / Detroit detritus

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[Above: Diego Rivera’s astonishing Detroit Industry Murals at the DIA. The workers come out well / Shinola, the calmest factory environment I’ve ever been in

FIVE WORDS FAIL
We drove to Detroit from Niagara Falls, where we sadly had no time to see Jefferson Starship (featuring Mickey Thomas) or BJ Thomas, or even to visit the Rock Legends Wax Museum.

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