Posts from 15th February 2004

15
Feb 04

Dare You!

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 291 views

Dare You!: I’m glad this ILM thread is getting going, I was a bit worried it would die a death, or just turn into people ‘daring’ people to listen to something they know the other would hate. I am not sure I’d have heard to any of the things I’ve been ‘dared’ to otherwise, and I’ve liked two of them (an anime soundtrack tune and a Derek Bailey “ballad”, if you don’t fancy wading through the thread) so far. And as for Casiotone and the Wonder Stuff? Well, it’s good to have my prejudices confirmed as well as baffled, sometimes.

Catterick

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Catterick

The new Reeves and Mortimer (writers and stars) sitcom, on BBC3 at present, is for the most part as odd an affair as you’d guess. Lots of strange characters played by a great cast including Matt Lucas, Dennis Healey, Charlie Higson, Morwenna Banks, Mark Benton and whatever the name is of the young-looking one out of the League of Gentlemen (I can never remember which is which). Vic’s acting is still not up to much, a broader and clumsier approach than everyone else in the cast – but I sort of think they’ve given him a character for whom it kind of works, at least so far – but if any depth is expected from him as the show progresses, this might be a problem. The show starts out with a disturbingly sad air, a bunch of hopelessly lost people stumbling around without much of a clue, with the LoG guy giving a mood of undefined menace. Unfortunately, this eventually turns into that tired old extended-sitcome story frame, used again and again in crappy spin-off movies and still oddly popular in continuing comedy stories (see Grass for a first cousin), of our heroes getting accidentally in opposition to some dangerous criminals. I like to think that this pair might have something not entirely old and conventional in store for is, but the emergence of this hackneyed meme struck me as a rather disspiriting ending to this first episode.

Patriotism Corner

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Patriotism Corner: God bless you, T A Harley! “These pages contain information about one of my favourite interests, the British weather.” He’s not joking either! I’ve already put some of it to ‘good use’ on Popular…

CONWAY TWITTY – ‘It’s Only Make Believe’

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#78, 19th December 1958

‘It’s Only Make Believe’ takes a male pop archetype ‘ booming, stirring, strident ‘ and flips it, so that each verse builds up not to a confident declaration but to a shattered, lonely howl. Twitty was a country singer by background and it’s as such he’s remembered, but this isn’t just a country song. It’s a synthesis of country, rock and roll, shoo-be-doo beat balladry and older pop crooning. The rolling piano rhythms might have coaxed lovers into one another’s arms in a different song ‘ here they give Twitty the momentum that allows him to confess, to shout out the lie he’s been living. (His hesitancy in the first lines, that fumbling for the word ‘everywhere’, is desperately effective.).

This is also the last No.1 of 1958. What it has in common with most of the others is a) quality, b) modernity. Which is to say that (Vic Damone aside), everything that topped the charts in ’58 seems clearly in debt to rock and roll ‘ in arrangement, in attitude, in risk-taking or playfulness or starkness. Eddie Fisher and the Dreamweavers had got to No.1 with records as lonely as ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ ‘ good records, too ‘ but compared to them Twitty sounds like he’s had a layer of skin peeled off. Their sorrow was something crafted and well-formed ‘ no less real, no less moving, but more carefully and delicately expressed. Twitty’s is immediate. Rock and roll wasn’t the first style to tap that immediacy, but for British listeners I’m guessing it might as well have been. What had gone before was portrait painting: rock and roll was a camera.

Tyrone Davis and a genre’s 10th percentile

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Tyrone Davis and a genre’s 10th percentile

I was listening to a fine old soul twofer, Tyrone Davis’s Can I Change My Mind/Hold Back The Hands Of Time (a bargain at £5 from Fopp) and thinking of recommending it here, which I guess I’ve just done. He’s a terrific inger and the title tracks are great, but most of the rest is, in all conscience, nothing special, and the playing is often shaky, in that slightly out of tune way common in much Northern Soul. But I really enjoy it anyway, and I was thinking about how I still keep coming across really great singers and songs, new to me, despite a pretty extensive collection and knowledge in this area, and this got me thinking about what we mean when we say we like/love genreX.

I do cite vintage soul as my favourite genre, but do I really love my favourite records (say early Hi Al Green) so much more than my favourite easy listening jazz (late ’50s Louis Prima) or Britpop (Pulp), two genres I would never cite as favourites? There’s not so much in it. For me, it’s how much I love the second or third tier stuff. With soul, I guess I could cite someone like Joe Tex or Etta James there, both of whom I love deeply, whereas with britpop I don’t care very much about Supergrass, and with easy listening jazz I struggle to find another act to mention that I much like. I love country, and that extends beyond Hank and George and Merle to, say, Jimmy Dale Gilmore or Carl & Pearl Butler, but not so much further. But for soul – actually, let’s be more specific: for late ’60s deep southern soul, I’ve hardly heard a record I didn’t like enormously. Maybe when I say how much I like a genre I am measuring my reaction to the 10th or 30th or even 70th percentile (counting downwards in my quality ranking, if I had one) rather than the absolute peak of it. On this basis, I’d have to say that I love reggae more than punk for instance, even though I think more punk records would make my top 100, say.

I’m not sure what the point of this little item is, but there is something there that interests me greatly, so I thought I might as well try to express it.

Coming Soon!!! by John Barth: What’s it about?

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Coming Soon!!! by John Barth: What’s it about?

I’m not sure how useful the above question is in general, but it’s something we all ask and I guess almost all reviews try to address it too. I was thinking of this while reading John Barth’s latest novel, Coming Soon!!!: on the one hand it’s about a struggling showboat, but really it’s about John Barth the author writing a book about John Barth the character writing a book about a young would-be writer working on a showboat who is writing a book about this young writer and this older writer John Barth, who are both writing books about each other… And there are about a hundred other metafictional layers and tricks and devices, all mixed up and bleeding into one another until you don’t know what ontological level you’re supposed to be reading. Except there is a showboat struggling to survive in the midst of it.

Frankly, I love such ludic PoMo stuff, though it’s easy to ee why some despise it as tricksy and groundless, but I do think this is disappointing. Some serious medical eye problems have made reading an epic effort for me lately, which doesn’t help, but I wonder if I’ve lost interest in Barth too – he has been in my top ten or so favourite writers for many years now. Apart from Barth himself, who doesn’t do much, none of the characters convince, and most are very annoying, especially the perky and brilliant young writer, and his girlfriend, yet another bloody take on Scheherezade. The story is negligible and uninteresting, and a selfconscious return to Barth’s debut black comedy, but lacking the black comedy and story twists and strong protagonist. His prose gets smugger and cosier all the time. Still, whenever a new layer of meta sneaks in, or one extant layer infects another, I am pleased I am reading it.