Posts from 14th September 2003

14
Sep 03

RYAN ADAMS – “SO ALIVE”

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RYAN ADAMS – “SO ALIVE”

another year, another handful of ryan adams releases. now, say what you will about the whiskeytown records (i’ll say they were mostly patchy), but they did hint at, if nothing else, an individual voice. to be sure, the drunken fuck-up is not a new archetype but at the very least one got the sense that adams put something of his self in his words.

but ever since he’s been bought up by the major label machinery, dated winona, been welcomed into the fold by rock critics, and met his idols, he’s attempted to fill voids and pay homage — i admit to buying into it now and again because, as a classic rock guy, even i can only listen to captain fantastic and the brown dirty cowboy so many times. by turns, he’s bob dylan, now van morrison. on “so alive,” he’s early u2 — he is friends with the strokes, after all — but then he’s morrissey, ca. bona drag.

some might herald this as change, as a breakthrough: “he’s never tried to be more than one rock icon in the same song!” me, i hear the edge playing “suedehead”; steven patrick beating his chest and wrapping his arms around the world. there is total disconnect between verse and chorus that no pre-chorus or bridge could sumount. but it’s the details that bother most, the ice-pick guitar lines and the catch-in-the-throat vocals on the verses, especially. someone is sure to be pleased by this, ryan’s accountant for one, maybe another hollywood starlet (i hear tara reid’s single.) but i, for one, am left wondering who the hell does ryan adams think he is? or, perhaps, more to the point: just who is ryan adams?

Tracer Hand, newly arrived in London

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Tracer Hand, newly arrived in London, eats pizza with me in Chinatown, and tells of the Mexican restaurants in New York City which are run and staffed by the Chinese. I approve, obv – at least if vice versa is established also, soon (and all other exchange programme permutations with it).

It was the major cultural fashion immediately before Romanticism

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It was the major cultural fashion immediately before Romanticism: big mistake. Two-and-a-half centuries later, the look of the 18th century pretty remains the default setting for “datedness”. The Classical Revival buildings, the flouncy clothes, the typefaces, almost everything directly portrayed in London: 1753 seems impossibly fubsily alien: WHAT WERE WE THINKING? London itself was still parochial enough be represented by one sweeping view north from the single curve of river between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge – and you can see forests and woods where the houses end. There’s a staggering complacency to the Official Art: the generals and heroes of the First Empire look sleekly overfed, even the satire (Hogarth wall-to-wall) seems a bit pleased with itself.

But this is an exhibition of prints not paintings, and we jumpcut to something colour might have glossed over. The unbroken black-and-white detail – in the fonts of playbills, in pictures of the fashionable walking in the park, in Sir Joshua Reynolds’s mezzotint repros of his portraits of the rich and Famous – is crabbed and nervously obsessive: every leaf is drawn, every brick inked in; the effect is of dark stormclouds of busy SOMETHING swarming up behind society as we know it; there’s a shared mood subcurrent of panic, established in the regions of the image where the mechanical need to complete is probably overriding conscious inspired control. Of course there right in the middle are the founders of the Gothic Revival – Prime Minister’s son Horace Walpole and his gay mafia of pals semi-mockingly invoking both the sublime and the absurd, Piranesi recasting the scaffolding for Westminster Bridge as some titanic nightmare construction project imposed as a punishment in hell. But you can see they had their Big Idea – for the pleasant thrill of terror in the swirl and crazy tracery of the depicted setting – confirmed daily, in this unintended weird finickiness of detail in hack handbills and engravings on sale en masse in highstreet shops.

Space Jerky!

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Space Jerky!

The opening montage of The American Astronaut, after our hero’s bumpy landing on Ceres in his railroad spacecraft, is of him fixing up everything that’s fallen down, intercut with dry-shaving his whiskers off, tidying up his sideburns, and greasing back his hair. It’s about then that it becomes clear that this isn’t a sci-fi western, it’s a biker sci-fi western, a collision of fifties pulp films that’s so cheerfully and enthusiastically mixed up that it’s a wonder it isn’t also a musical.

It’s also a musical.

Mostly it works because of Writer/Director/Star Cory McAbee, who grits his way through, looking like Harvey Keitel crossed with Hugh Jackman. Sometimes it doesn’t work: there are a few Lynchian touches that really jar, but for the most part it’s just a great weird black-and-white no-budget B-Movie. The closest comparison is that it’s the kind of thing 2000ad would run in its heyday: Space saloons! Killer professors! All-male mining colonies enthralled by “the boy who once saw a woman’s breast”!