Posts from 27th October 2000

27
Oct 00

Julie London

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And Julie Was Her Name – Listening To Old Music

Whenever you choose to fix it, the birth of Rock is a barrier, like a wall built in time. We on the other side look back to the times before and can’t touch them somehow, can’t imagine those records actually being released, being new. Was there ever a crackle of excitement when Round Midnight or Julie…At Home came out – did anyone queue at the counters on the first day, did anyone even notice? And on the other side of the wall we live in a perpetual present, where every old record is sold to us because of how now it suddenly sounds, and where nothing ever ends. How can you seriously suggest the Beatles broke up when their serene cartoon faces gaze down from every bookshop and record shop in the land, still bigger than Jesus, history and death?

John Lennon’s death is played out again and again – reading a lot about music I think I probably see a reference to it every single day of my life. Julie London died and most people I know thought she was dead already: ironically for a singer who had the best timing in pop, it seemed as if she missed her cue. The BBC website showed her acting a nurse in a TV show, but they showed her at least: I didn’t see much on any other sites, or many obituaries, but then I couldn’t tell you when she made her last record even. You would find her records in the ‘Oldies’ section and shiver, because that was part of why you were buying them: as something old, something classic, from before the mad whirl of Rock started up.

We buy all those old records now – Julie and Peggy and Frank and Dean – because of what they represent as much as what they are. It’s a vote for a smoother, wittier, more stylish world than the one we’ve landed up with: the chink of glass against glass, the sharp flare of trumpets, the devastating couplet and the clutch of hand on hip. But it’s also a safe vote, for a world that can’t come back, which is why these records are so often seen through the prism of kitsch. I’d hazard a guess that there aren’t many people now for whom Julie London records are a central part of who they are, rather than an elegant mixer for their more everyday tastes.

In a way, we’ve forgotten how to listen to them. We like our records, sometimes, to seem distanced, but when we play Magnetic Fields or Pet Shop Boys albums we’re so aware of context – that these records are somehow oppositional, that they’re distancing themselves from something (the great howling mass of Rock, generally). That’s how we try and use Julie London records, too, but Julie’s records aren’t in the least ironic, can’t be because they come from a time before any of that mattered.

What are they, then? They’re reserved, I suppose – you don’t get much grainy vocal emoting from Julie: even something as apparently straightforward and serious as “Cry Me A River” is delivered with a minimum of grandstanding and a maximum of sangfroid. Even so it sounds desolate and cruel. But the emotional idioms built up over forty years of rock singing are quite absent, and it’s only the ballads you can really ‘read’ emotionally in the way you’d read a record by Aretha or Madonna.

The uptempo songs, the swing numbers, are much harder to figure out. The crucial thing I think is to try and relate to them as performances, not as ‘works of art’ in the way we’ve been conditioned to think of albums as being. When rock musicians go into the studio now, they keep the audience in mind, but it’s an atomised audience, not a group audience. The recordings on the new Radiohead album, say, were created with individual consumption in mind: a single fan, in a bedroom or office or living room, taking meaning from the record as best they can. But the songs Julie sang were standards, intended to be sung as part of a programme, to a small or medium sized group of people.

That’s why the emphasis in these songs tends not to be on their direct emotional content, but on funny or elegant or unexpected rhymes and lyrics, and their delivery. It’s easier to evoke laughter in a group situation, after all. So the home listener finds themselves curiously adrift with a Julie London album, cut off from the performance-context of the songs. Even on Julie…At Home, an excellent album which pivots on the conceit that Julie has asked a recording set-up into her house to hear her play, this context is king: Julie is inviting them, and you, to a private, intimate performance. Compare this to the Rock era’s Basement and Bedroom tapes, where the emphasis is generally on the artist needing to retreat into a private realm before true creativity can be unlocked.

This disconnection ends up being something pleasurable, too, something refreshing after the emotional peaks and wracks which so much Rock tries to put you through. It accounts I think for why I find these ‘oldies’ records so charming and sly. (It accounts also for why I find stuff like Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore so exhilarating, but that’s another story). And in the meantime you can concentrate on the phrasing, the timing, the laughter and sex in songs like “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend” or “Everything Happens To Me”, or just let their singer bow gracefully into the background and wash yourself in the craft of it all.

But still Julie London is dead. We won’t see a biopic because her life was a happy and private one, but we will see more compilations, eventually. Maybe we’ll find things to do with her music that make it less peripheral to the general buzz of things, or maybe the wall between the now music and the old music will remain impermeable. It doesn’t matter: as long as there are quiet nights and dancing, as long as we need music that captures romance as well as love, her songs will be played.

PULP – “The Night That Minnie Temperley Died”

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PULP – “The Night That Minnie Temperley Died” (live MP3)

as time passes and his stature as a “sex symbol” grows, it’s getting increasingly difficult to imagine jarvis cocker as the kind of guy who has no other option but to worship women from afar. still, it’s hard to begrudge him this when he gets the mood and feeling right time and again. like many shy, sensitive, and intelligent boys, jarvis feels that he could save a woman, if she’d only let him, but she’s too busy dating football players and the like, oblivious to his very existence (sigh). “minnie, if i could, i would give you the rest of my life,” he sings, but he didn’t because she wouldn’t allow for it. instead, the rest of her life went to a suspicious fellow who gave her a lift late one saturday night. the opening lines of the song are used to tell us all we need to know about minnie as a person: her philosophy is, “there’s a light that shines on everything and everyone and it shines so bright – brighter, even, than the sun.”: it basically tells us that minnie is a trusting, optimistic, though naive girl. on top of that, she’s a looker, the kind of girl the whole world wants to have sex with. jarvis (sigh) is resigned to be nothing more than a passive onlooker giving a helpless testimony to the night, we can only assume, minnie was taken off somewhere by a stranger, never to be seen again. so as to assuage her fear that she was the victim of a senseless act of violence — something that would’ve destroyed her world view, though does it matter now that she’s dead? — jarvis coos, “he only did what he did because you looked like one of his kids.”

“minnie,” it should be said, is a work in progress. one hopes, though, that the “progress” is over because to tinker with this song would be to tamper with near-perfection — and, certainly, i hope that this wasn’t one of the songs that jarvis scrapped. the premise is quite grim — beautiful girl cut down in the prime of her life and, hey, maybe if she got with jarvis it all could’ve been different, but alas — but the music is sweet and just plain beautiful. the song begins with a thunderous sampled backbeat and scathing glam guitar licks which are eventually leavened by acoustic guitar and a soaring string arrangement. it’s a fine mix of beauty and pain, much like the happy life and tragic death of minnie temperley herself. here’s to the sadly beautiful girls out there who’ve broken all our hearts and have inspired some of the finest art ever created. may jarvis cocker never find happiness and, if he does, may he continue to fool us into thinking otherwise.

I might as well

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I might as well remind people that our fabulous forum, I Love Music, is not just my personal playground. Ally just contributed a question about sports songs, and any of you, readers and contributors alike, are more than welcome to put any question you want to the massed Freaky Trigger readership. Also it stops me having to think of them.

THOM YORKE IS A TWAT

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THOM YORKE IS A TWAT

“Platters for sharing”

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“Platters for sharing” Often offered, regularly ordered but never any good at all – it’s the pub sharing platter. For more than the price of two meals, you can recreate that crap wedding reception buffet vibe by ordering a selection of snack foods which were never meant to be eaten together. Typically, these will all have been deep-fried: prawn toasts, mini bhaji, lamb on a stick, chicken wings, buffalo fries. Why not go the whole hog and have fish fingers and potato waffles? Do you have the palate of a six year old?

There is a reason why meals include things like vegetables. Balanced diet. It’s the same reason why people don’t just have three steaks for dinner.

Some things that go wrong with pub nachos:

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Some things that go wrong with pub nachos:
1. You get those horrible bland/salty tortilla chips.
2. Plate is superhot from being microwaved. Microwaving nachos is criminal – they go soggy, chips and cheese get hot but salsa remains cold. Urgh.
3. It’s a bad cheese. Possibly excessively stringy.
4. Not real jalapenos. Or no jalapenos.
5. Too many chips, not enough dips.
6. Bleeding sour cream. There’s really no need. And some of the shite that passes for guacamole; don’t get me started.
7. They come as part of a “platter for sharing”.

A New Greater Wimpy, A No Smarter Bang

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A New Greater Wimpy, A No Smarter Bang: my guess is there are translation issues at work here but I found this more or less incomprehensible. Its basic thesis as far as I can get it is that 2000 is a Classic Year because of bands like Smog and Lambchop and folks like Cat Power marrying old and new forms and de-ironising the appropriation of said ‘old forms’. It seemed to me, though, the problem with alt.country was always its horrid seriousness, its determination to not co-opt the ironic registers of indie rock, which also led it to miss the laffs in a lot of the country music it so revered.

100 Top 70s Punk LPs

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100 Top 70s Punk LPs: have I blogged this before? I honestly can’t remember. Anyway, I’m in a punky mood today and this gave me ten minutes solid nostalgic entertainment.

The Official Daphne and Celeste Hate Site

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The Official Daphne and Celeste Hate Site: it’s a ‘conspiricy’, apparently. The irony being of course that this site is much more in the spirit of D & C than any of my jaded musings here are ever likely to be.

The Virtual Irish Pub

Pumpkin Publog2 comments • 1,216 views

The Virtual Irish Pub: as if real Irish theme pubs aren’t bad enough. On my visit there were forty benighted ‘virtual drinkers’, almost all of whom were congregated at the ‘Front Door’ area. No sign of any chat going on, though two individuals had gone to the – oh god my fingers can hardly type it – to the ‘Bedroom Area’ (yeah, I’ll be sure to ask for that next time I’m down O’Neills). To any frequenters of virtual pubs, let me pose a delicate question: why do you bother, you sad fuckers?