Five Things, July 5th

ONE TANGLED UP IN TOTALITARIANISM
The Handmaid’s Tale is so good, it makes everything else on tv look faintly pallid. Here are the words of Offred, at the top of episode two, as the Commander begins “The Ceremony” and she tries to take leave of her corporeal vessel by looking at the colour of the ceiling and slowly running down a list of the blues…
“Blue Moon, Rhapsody in Blue, Tangled Up in Blue, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Monday.”
The updating is full of great touches, and great song choices (such as a slowed-down “Heart of Glass” soundtracking the explosion in the cafe during the riot in episode three).

Margaret Attwood, in a terrific column for the New York Times: “By 1984, I’d been avoiding my novel for a year or two. It seemed to me a risky venture. I’d read extensively in science fiction, speculative fiction, utopias and dystopias ever since my high school years in the 1950s, but I’d never written such a book. Was I up to it? The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonise, a veering into allegory and a lack of plausibility. If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real. One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened in what James Joyce called the “nightmare” of history, nor any technology not already available. No imaginary gizmos, no imaginary laws, no imaginary atrocities. God is in the details, they say. So is the Devil.”

TWO CHESS MEN

5-barneyBarney and Mark visit Chicago for Rock’s Backpages, and discover this extraordinary wall at the Chess Studios Museum. Barney reports: “they are slightly weird and creepy death masks… but a good number of the people are still alive!” I found this interesting piece on Chicagobusiness.com, asking why the Chess Studios aren’t a tourist mecca. I have to book a ticket to Chi-Town immediately.

I bought a copy of the Oxford American’s Music Issue (typically excellent) last month, and found that nearly all the adverts were for blues tours through most every city in the American South. There’s “New Music City” Birmingham, Alabama, Georgia is apparently on my mind, and I’m Soul’d on Stax and Memphis (where [Cap A] Authenticity comes from, according to Memphistravel.com). I find that music and history live where Robert Johnson died, in Greenwood, Mississippi and that Jackson in the same state has the most markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail. History also goes to be recorded in Muscle Shoals, recently refurbished by Dr Dre and Beats Entertainment (I’m not making this up).

THREE AFTER 40 YEARS, JOE ALLEN PREPARES TO MOVE AROUND THE CORNER
…and I wonder if The Divine Miss M will still be above the door to the restrooms… (I’m hoping they keep all of Jim McMullan’s great Lincoln Center Theatre posters, too).

5-bette

FOUR PSYCHO, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
Nick invites my mum (or should that be Mother! MOTHER!) and I to a screening at the Festival Hall of Psycho, with the Herrmann score played live by the London Philharmonic, conducted by Robert Zeigler. Zeigler introduced Bernard Herrmann’s widow, Norma, and asked about the fallow period in his career after his falling out with Hitchcock over Torn Curtain in 1965. “Everyone in Hollywood at that time was afraid of being old hat – all the men had their shirts open to down to here, chains, middle-aged people smoking pot… Not Bennie. Or me. They were scared of being left behind, and Hitchcock wanted to tune in, and said: I want you to write me a pop song… And Bennie did what was best for the film – no pop tune, and that caused a rift between them. Even when he called Lionel Newman [Randy and Thomas Newman’s uncle, and senior vice president of all music for Twentieth Century Fox Films] and said What have you got?, he said Sorry, Bennie, we’ve decided to run with the kids… meaning You’re old hat… Well, he was really furious and he paced up and down, saying run with kids, run with kids? But come Scorsese and Truffaut and Spielberg… Taxi Driver… and Lionel Newman rang him and said Are you free? Are you free?, and Bennie said I’m sorry… I’ve decided to run with the kids!

5-psychoThe original score has never been released, apparently, although it has been bootlegged. The track names are great:
1 Prelude – The City – Marion and Sam – Temptation
2 Flight – The Patrol Car – The Car Lot – The Package – The Rainstorm
3 Hotel Room – The Window – The Parlour – The Madhouse – The Peephole
4 The Bathroom – The Murder – The Body – The Office – The Curtain – The Water – The Car – The Swamp
5 The Search – The Shadow – Phone Booth – The Porch – The Stairs – The Knife
6 The Search – The First Floor – Cabin 10 – Cabin 1
7 The Hill – The Bedroom – The Toys – The Cellar – Discovery – Finale

FIVE OLD CROW AT SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE
Along to the old BBC TV Theatre with “Discount Fireworks” competion winner Lloyd to see OCMS playing the whole of Blonde on Blonde, turbocharged Bluegrass-style. They are incredible at what they do, and they remember all of the lyrics, even “Sad Eyed Lady”. Their London crowd is partisan, and the evening is a blast (apart from a “comedy” version of “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” that we’ll pass lightly over). My only criticism would be that the softer side of BoB doesn’t really stand a chance. Even if they start a song as a stately dressage-like waltz, by halfway through they’re thrashing its hindquarters and racing for the finish line. The end with “Rock Me Mama like a Wagon Wheel”, a song they co-wrote with Bob, even though they’ve never met him. See the full story on the music player to your right.

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Friday, 28th August

batchtandy

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
Now that’s a magazine cover. Love the Cilla type, too. And Sharon Tandy! Atlantic’s marketing guys knew how to use white space. Both of these from the Rock’s Backpages archive… I have Sharon Tandy’s single from ’67 of “Stay With Me”, but I think it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the Lorraine Ellison original, produced (and written) by Jerry Ragavoy. Philly’s Queen of Soul, indeed – a performance for the ages.

COVER GIRL
The 50th anniversary of Otis Blue is being celebrated by Rhino Records with a deluxe edition. There’s a search on to find out just who it is in the cover photo. Rhino’s press release: “The photograph was a stock image licensed for use on the cover, which was standard at the time. Recently, the photographer, Peter Sahula, told Stax Museum archivist Tim Sampson that “I’m almost sure this is Dagmar [Dreger], but I can’t find any others from that shoot, and her face is in shadow. So it’s hard for me even to be sure…” Sahula further went on to explain that if it wasn’t Dagmar, it was almost certainly Nico, the enigmatic singer for The Velvet Underground, who was also an occasional model for Mr Sahula’s shoots. So, using a combination of Otis Redding’s Facebook reach (strange concept, no? – Ed) and other online efforts, it is hoped that the worldwide community can find Ms Dreger to confirm this. Join the search by following @OtisRedding on Facebook or Twitter, and contribute information with the hashtag #FindDagmar.”

COVER ME
With a mighty bound, a favourite Bruce Springsteen bootleg springs free of storage and is quickly digitised. In the music player on the right you’ll find one of my favourite ever Bob covers. As Michael Hann wrote in The Guardian a few years back, “Extended runs through “Kitty’s Back”, “New York City Serenade” and “Rosalita”, one of the most vivid expressions of joy rock has ever produced, highlight both the incredible understanding of the band, with instinct supplemented by hours of hard graft, and their empathy for their leader’s needs. But for all the epicry, the covers here show the true heart of the E Street Band: Harold Dorman’s “Mountain of Love”, a 1960 rock’n’roll throwaway, is given a treatment so overwhelming it sounds like a showstopper. Only some problems with sound quality prevent this eclipsing any official Springsteen live release.”

TWO SONGS THAT MADE A GREAT SOUNDTRACK…
to driving across town with money for the builders – Quincy Jones’ “Money Runner” (excellent wah-wah and groove) and ZZ Top’s “I Gotsta Get Paid” (a cover of a famous 90’s Houston hip-hop track called ”25 Lighters”). If you haven’t heard this, do. It’s insane. Gnarly riffs, fantastically bluesy breaks, a mighty groove. Poor video, tho.

COME ON YOU O’s
I had kind of hoped that I’d see out my days without ever again being reminded of Chicory Tip’s “Son of My Father”, but it was not to be. At the first game of Orient’s season, a chant started not long after the kick off to a tune I couldn’t place. A couple of more times and I had it: “Son of My Father”, a particularly egregious example of early Seventies Production-Line Pop, notable as the “first UK number one single to prominently feature a synthesizer, in this case a Moog”, playing a particularly hideous riff. Apparently a terrace favourite around the country for years (what do I know?), it was written by Georgio Moroder, and under his own name was a rare miss. The lyrics. Well, the lyrics are fine: “Son of my father / Molded, I was folded, I was preform-packed / Son of my father / Commanded, I was branded in a plastic vac / Surrounded and confounded by statistic facts”. [By the way, in Orient news, it’s been a great start to the now-League Two club’s season, and if any Premiership scouts are reading, check out wing back Sean Clohessy, a player who combines a fantastic attitude with real skill – not only terrific defensively, but also involved in virtually every goal.]

REVIEW OF THE WEEK
This reminded me of the classic Charles Shaar Murray NME review of Lee Hazlewood’s Poet, Fool or Bum album, which was one word shorter. Bum.

F4 Review CSM Lee Hazelwood

Five Things, Wednesday 8th October

From an unsparing – but excellent – profile of Willie Nelson at 81 in Rolling Stone, written by Patrick Doyle
“We walk across the driveway to what Nelson calls Django’s, a small log cabin where he spends most of his time. A baseball bat sits by the door; Al Jazeera plays with the volume off on the flatscreen, while a liberal talk-radio show blares in the back of the room. There are shelves of books – books about the history of the Middle East, a book of sketches by Julian Schnabel and a Django Reinhardt songbook. Reinhardt has long been Nelson’s favourite guitarist; he has been taking lessons lately, learning some of the jazz great’s techniques from a teacher in Maui.”

From Michael Parkinson’s biography, picked up at my in-laws
“Yehudi Menuhin had been booked to appear and the researcher reported that, while visiting him, she saw an album by Stéphane Grappelli on his desk. She enquired if he was a fan and Menuhin said he had been sent the album but was not aware of Grappelli’s work. We called Stéphane, who was working in a club in Paris, and asked if he would appear on the show with Menuhin. He was uncertain. “He is a maestro. I am a humble fiddle player,” he said. We convinced him and he flew in to meet Menuhin who, by this time, had listened to Grappelli’s album and was insisting that if they played together they must first rehearse at his house. Stéphane arrived, straight from his stint in the nightclub, and was whisked off to meet Menuhin. He was very nervous. He returned three hours later, wreathed in smiles. we asked him how the rehearsal had been. Stéphane said, “How did it go? I tell you. Five bars into Lady Be Good, who is the maestro?” Menuhin was in awe of Grappelli’s effortless improvising, something he found as impossible to achieve as it would have been for Stéphane to play the Brahms Violin Concerto. It is hard to imagine two more diverse personalities – Menuhin, an infant prodigy, a protected species from childhood; Stéphane, a child of smoke-filled rooms who never had a formal lesson in his life and created, along with Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club, a sound as enchanting and fresh as any in all of jazz.”

My one meeting with Monsieur Grappelli was when Roger Horton, owner of the 100 Club, asked me to photograph him, in order to have his portrait on the walls of the club. Barely out of art school, I had spent a year or so photographing musicians at the Jazz Centre Society in Seven Dials Community Centre on Shelton Street, Covent Garden. It was good practice – there was almost no light and no space, so you really had to work hard to get anything worthwhile. I had no real knowledge of the music, mostly at the more experimental end of the jazz spectrum, but it was always interesting. I snapped Mongezi Feza, Peter Ind, Tony Coe and Bobby Wellins with various degrees of success. I remember squeezing into a tiny space at Louis Stewart’s feet and shooting almost vertically upwards. Louis is a great jazz guitarist from Ireland, who was also in Grappelli’s band that night, along with the equally gifted Martin Simpson. At the point Roger asked me I was competent, but no more, and nervous to boot. I think that Roger asked me to shoot with a flash, because I never would have otherwise used it… Stéphane was polite, but tired, and I felt awful making them pose. The performance, however was terrific. Here’s the contact sheet. Roger chose frame 3, I chose the sans-flash frame 8.

SG

From The Financial Express
Sian sends me this: Scientists sneak Bob Dylan lyrics into research articles: Five Swedish scientists who have been quoting Bob Dylan lyrics in research articles for the last 17 years are running a wager on who can squeeze in most of the American singer’s songs in their articles. The game started 17 years ago when two Professors from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, John Jundberg and Eddie Weitzberg, wrote a piece about gas passing through intestines, with the title Nitric Oxide and inflammation: The answer is blowing in the wind. “We both really liked Bob Dylan and we thought the quotes really fitted nicely with what we were trying to achieve with the title”, Weitzberg said. “We’re not talking about scientific papers – we could have got in trouble for that – but rather articles we have written about research by others, book introductions, editorials and things like that”. A few years later a librarian spotted an article written by two other medical professors working at the same university titled Blood on the tracks: a simple twist of fate. The librarian connected the foursome. Junberg and Weitzberg then invited their colleagues to take the idea to the next level and they started competing to see who could get the most Bob Dylan lyrics into their articles before retirement. The winner will get lunch in a restaurant in Solna, north of Stockholm.

From Small Acorns
After another great Tuesday night at the Harrison to watch the Horseless Headmen, Grahame Painting’s terrific improv project, Marcel thinks he recognises trombonist Paul Taylor from seeing the Yiddish Twist Orchestra recently. One innocent enquiry leads to a fascinating conversation, which takes in the upcoming Orchestra CD – two years after its recording, the stars have finally aligned – Brass bands, the UK Cuban music scene, trombone poetry (Paul’s invention), the Three Mustaphas Three, Don Ellis, the Mingus Big Band and the nature of music. Marcel and I agreed that it was as enjoyable as the gig.

From Rock’s Backpages, and the Other Side
A recording made by John Pidgeon of an extraordinary interview he did with Michael Jackson, through the medium of his 13-year-old sister Janet, has been animated by Blank on Blank, in their Famous Names, Lost Interviews series. It was recorded in LA in January 1980 as Off The Wall was being released.

From John’s introduction: “One thing,” she said, as if it was an insignificance she had overlooked and just remembered, “you don’t mind if his sister sits in on the interview, do you?”
“Of course not, Shirley,” I assured her with a smile.
“What’s her name?”
“Janet.”
“Janet,” I repeated.
“Oh, and one more thing…” Shirley paused, to ensure she had my attention. Anticipating another trivial afterthought, I wasn’t ready for the bomb Shirley was about to drop.
“If you could direct your questions to Janet, she’ll put them to Michael.”

Michael Jackson: “I hate labels because it should be just music. I don’t see anything wrong with disco. You can’t dance to [imitates guitar thrashing sound] or… Call it disco. Call it anything. It’s music. Would you call “She’s Out of My Life” disco? “Off The Wall”, “Rock With You”… I don’t know. It’s music to me. It’s like you hear a bird chirping. You don’t say: “That’s a bluejay. This one is a crow.” It’s a beautiful sound. That’s all that counts. Listen to it. You watch them soar in the skies. It’s just beautiful.”

Extra! Mike Disfarmer and Birney Imes
If you’re interested in photography of the American South, check out this fascinating post by Gerry Corden, at That’s How The Light Gets In. Nominally about the new Lucinda Williams CD, it mutates into a fascinating look at photography, music and mutual inspiration.
“Disfarmer is an unusual name – because Mike made it up, changing his name to indicate a rift with both his kin and his agrarian surroundings. He was born Michael Meyer in 1884 and legally changed his name to Disfarmer to disassociate himself from the farming community in which he plied his trade and from his own kinfolk – claiming that a tornado had accidentally blown him onto the Meyer family farm as a baby.”

Five Things: Wednesday 29th January

Folk Music Has Another Moment…
A fitting soundtrack to The Naked Rambler (some Nick Drake, I think, and Tom Paxton’s “Rambling Boy”). The Joan Baez documentary I’ve not quite finished watching. BBC4 showing Murray Lerner’s great Festival. The opening of Inside Llewyn Davis and attendant media blitz. And lastly, all the obits for Pete Seeger folk’s been all over everything in the last week or so. My favourite act in Lerner’s film were the amazing Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers, clean-cut college kids looking for all the world like cousins of Buddy Holly and Annette Funicello, high-stepping and twirling, accompanied by Seeger’s banjo-playing, to a standing ovation from the crowd. “In 1962 from in and around the little mountain town of Hendersonville, NC, the so-called Dancingest Little Town in America, a group of teenagers and one adult, 24-year-old James Kesterson, started the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers. Hendersonville had been the Home of the retired world champion North Carolina Cloggers and a bit of their influence can be seen in the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers.”

At The Foot Of Richard Williams’ Fine Pete Seeger Tribute
on the Guardian site: Seeger jeans, just in…

Seeger

Happy Traum, Interviewed By Ken Hunt, 1981, Found On rocksbackpages.com
Happy: “It seems to me that folk music is a very funny form musically, because it can be easily a kind of dead issue. I think that’s the way many people do folk music; when it’s put in those terms, it really can lose the vitality that it’s supposed to have. So, naturally I’m attracted to people who can take folk songs and make them alive and make them exciting, without necessarily turning them into something different. I mean, you could play folk songs with a symphonic orchestra or you can play folk songs with a rock and roll band, but it will very often lose the essence just as much as if somebody’s doing an old Burl Ives imitation, which also loses the essence to me. But when Ry Cooder plays a folk song, most of the time he keeps the essential things about that music that attracts me to it and yet at the same time adds something which is fresh and different. So that’s one of the reasons why I think both he and Taj Mahal are very important. Because they take those old songs and add a life to them.”

Excerpt From Neil Young’s Grammy Speech (Producers & Engineers Wing)
“So this is a cool night because we’re all here together… A lot of us, you know, producers and engineers –I’m kind of a producer, partially, an engineer, I’m not really good at either one. It’s hurt my records in the past. We’re performance-oriented: technical things don’t matter that much. That’s only one way of making records. A lot of you out here are craftsmen: just beautiful records, and take great care with every note. And I know I’m not one of them. I like to capture the moment. I like to record the moment. I like to get the first time that I sung the song. I like to get the first time the band plays the song. So there’s a lot of compromises you make to get that feeling, but in the long run, that’s where the pictures are when I hear my words and when I see the pictures while I’m listening. So that’s what we try to record.

I love you all people, because I know what you’re doing. I know how crazy you are about all the things that I don’t care about. Sometimes you make great records, and it’s fantastic. They’re not like my records – sometimes I can’t feel them, but I really appreciate them. No, sometimes I can feel them and I go, “Holy shit, how did they do that? How did they make that record? I know they layered it – it’s not like a documentary where something happens and you take a picture, cinema verite. This is a movie: somebody created all the scenes, and there was the dialogue, and then they did the dialogue again, and there was the foley to do the sounds, and they did all the stuff, and everything’s perfect – but it’s still good.”

There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just a different way of doing it than I could ever do, because I have so little ability to do that, that it would really suck: over and over again, getting it right. That’s why I’m flat, that’s why it doesn’t matter that there’s bad notes. That doesn’t mean it’s not production – it just means it’s the kind of production that we do.

Some people are here tonight that I’ve worked with over the ages that are just really incredible people. Al Schmitt’s here tonight… because he’s the father of what’s going on here, and he’s still here. He has staying power. And he was recording the way that I want to record now. I’m going to make a record with Al – we’re talking about making a record together where there’s only one mic, but we do a huge orchestra. And when we finish doing that performance, and every guy’s standing the right length from the mic: the background vocal is like “hey-hey-hey,” and of course I’m up here, but they’re right there, so it sounds like that there. So we’re going to do it that way. We’re not going to mix it: we’re going to do it, and mix it while we do it. Everybody can get in the right place, and if it’s not right – well, we’ll move the bass up. Move the bass closer. It’s not loud enough? Move the amp closer, then! It sounds good, but it’s just too quiet, so move it up. Move it in, and the drums? Leave it over there, go back farther.

Do you know how fun that is to do? That is so much fun. It’s like playing music – it’s not making music, it’s playing it… There’s something that happens with one mic. I’ve just never been able to do that, with some rare instances like when I record in a recording booth from a 1940s state fair. I got that sound by closing myself into a telephone booth. And I notice, it sounds just like an old record. And I like the sound of old records! I’ve always loved that.

The thing we do is, we make great stuff in the studio and then we kiss its ass goodbye, because nobody’s ever going to hear it. That’s unfortunate, and it didn’t used to be that way. That’s something that happened to us – that’s an injury we sustained, and it deeply hurt us. So the time has come for us to recover and to bring music back to the people in a way that they can recognize it in their souls – through the window of their souls, their ears. So they can feel and vibrate and so that they can get goosebumps. We cherish those fucking goosebumps. We really need those.”

Some Non-Folk: I walked between the raindrops…
…to work, eschewing my usual Boris Bike, and “Day Dream”, the Ellington/Strayhorn song on Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi album, sneaked into my earphones. It’s really something, and somehow I’d never properly listened to it before – Joshua Redman on burnished tenor duetting with Toussaint’s exquisite piano. It makes time stand still as I walk past a hundred people standing in the rain in Rathbone Place, victims of a fire alarm drill. It comes to an end as I cross the coffee shop threshold, usurped by Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” as I stand in line behind Ian Hislop and Andy Hamilton catching up with one another.
nb, from Michael Hill’s liner notes on Nonesuch Records’ website: Apparently, Redman nailed his solo on the first take. Toussaint praises Redman’s “beautiful tone. I could just listen to him alone, solo. I’d love to catch him on a street corner somewhere. And everyone was hip to him much more than I was. When I told my son about him, he said, ‘Oh yes, he’s the bomb.’ And my son was right. Joshua is a marvelous musician. He’s finely tuned to what he’s looking for in his sound; he doesn’t accept stock.”

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