Posts from 14th April 2004

Apr 04

BOBBY DARIN – “Mack The Knife”

Popular17 comments • 3,065 views

#91, 16th October 1959

From dream lovers to an unpleasant wake-up call: Darin snaps his fingers and Kurt Weill ushers the spooning teenagers offstage pronto – one lovestuck girl remains and so Bobby sings her this nasty little song. Everything about “Mack The Knife” is grown-up – the reeling return of swing and wit to the top of the charts; the bloody lyrics; the predatory glee; and Darin’s conversational tone, more patter than singing. “That cement is just – it’s there for the weight, dear” – a horrified thrill transmits from Darin’s fictional audience to his real audience and all the way to the present day. And then the horns slam in for the final verse and you’re part of Darin’s world, of Mack’s world; you’re complicit.

Darin was the first heart-throb to find the exit door: if you want to move on, get nasty. If you do it convincingly, you’ll take the best of your fans with you. If not, you’re an embarrassment. Bobby Darin convinced: “Mack The Knife” was his key and pop stars are still trying to fit it to that lock – step forward Robbie Williams and Gareth Gates. You only need look at Gates to know his version won’t work, and as for Robbie, his swing recordings are expressions of respect, the very thing he built his second chance by torching. Mack would make short work of them both, and do it with a smile.

JERRY KELLER – “Here Comes Summer”

Popular6 comments • 4,357 views

#90, 9th October 1959

At first glace Jerry Keller’s only Brit hit seems dreadfully badly timed: a breezy Hammond confection about the onset of Summer reaching No.1 in October. But when you hear the record it makes sense – contentedly wistful, this is a song for a satisfied Summer’s end. Whether Keller meant it that way is anyone’s guess, but his cosy, introspective vocal line is hardly brimming with the title’s suggested anticipation.

The lyrics are a seasonal checklist: a concentrate of the All-American Fantasy Summer that became a lodestone for pop culture, a teen Eden to return to or subvert. It must have been a particularly seductive vision for British kids, whose own blazing Summer had been soundtracked by the likes of Craig Douglas and whose climate was not generally suited to “drive-in movies every night”. Even so the lingering presence of that ultimate Summer in pop is much more to do with Hollywood and the Beach Boys than poor, bland, forgotten Jerry Keller. But “Here Comes Summer” is a gem for all that – optimistic, catchy, delightfully and economically arranged: a suitable curtain call for teen-pop’s first heatwave.

Jorge Luis Borges

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 239 views

Jorge Luis Borges

I meant to publish this a while back. Reading the article on FT this month regarding Latin American literature jogged my memory.

Borges is Argentina’s greatest modern writer. That’s hardly a contentious statement. I would add he is Latin America’s greatest modern writer, but as expounded by Martin below, it’s a futile exercise anyway. This isn’t writing with a basis in any one country or area, he just happens to be the best that country produced.

Borges is an author whose pages are crammed with ideas. The short stories glide from science fiction to detective novel and themes forever overlap. There are narratives masquerading as book reviews with a scattering of links to other works. The references are highly detailed and convincingly authentic. But none of the sources exist. This is the kind of literature that left me in awe of the author’s imagination and made me wonder how intelligent I’d be if I didn’t have a brain full of football results.

Recurring motifs of labyrinths and language mix with rewritten history and can leave the reader baffled or marvelled. Like the story of the library containing every book ever written and every book yet to be written, Borges was trying to keep ahead of the game. From the scholar who precisely rewrote Don Quixote to the man who remembered literally everything, this is mind-stretching stuff. One read through is to scratch the surface, two is pick up the patterns and by the third you want to recommend it to the stranger sitting opposite on the bus.

Borges died in 1986. His writing is widely translated and the collected short stories, Fictions is the ideal way in. His most famous quote is widely known and sprang from the Falklands War in 1982, ‘Two bald men fighting over a comb.’

Can anyone be called Joey or Joe in the States now without being thought of as knockabout comic relief?

Do You SeePost a comment • 270 views

I am not just thinking of Matt Le Blanc here, though when the sitcom of the same name fumbles on to the screen next year we will really see if the stupid schtick can prop up a series. The least mentioned of the The Station Agent’s three lead characters is also an apparently dumb Cuban American called Joe. Played by Bobby Cannavale, it is my favourite character in the film. But lacking the stature of Peter Dinklage or the roll of great character parts that Patricia Clarkson has had it has been generally ignored as another dumb Joe.

This Joe runs his fathers Snack Van which parks by the disused station in the middle of nowhere. It does not seem to be a wise business decision, but Joe mans it with plenty of enthusiasm. The same kind of enthusiasm he puts into being Finbar’s friend. He is comic relief, and we cringe as he tries to get into trainspotting just to be with his new friend. What lies at the heart of this chacter is a profound loneliness though, which Cannavale manages to express via the overt good humour of his role. Is his Joe dumb, or just trapped and desperate for friends. In many ways his loquacious, good looking character is the real mystery in The Station Agent. We understand why Peter Dinklage’s dwarf Finbar shuns society. We empathise with Clarkson’s bereaved mother. Joe, trapped in a dead end job looking after his father makes less sense. Which to me makes him the most fascinating.

Cut it out Scissor Sisters

I Hate Music2 comments • 1,185 views

One thing that always cheers me in my constant fight against aural dissonance is musics constant quest to reinvent itself. You may think this may make my quest like Heracles battle against the many headed hydra, cut one off and hundreds spring back in its place. Nevertheless Heracles worked out that if he cauterised the wound the head will not grow back. And I feel that time has finally come for glam MOR music. Because if there is a band who needs cauterising, preferably alive, it is the Scissor Sisters. And I feel with their gung ho desperation to try and throw anything in the mix from Elton John to the Bee Gees and Pink Floyd they are doing more than I can ever do to destroy an entire genre of music.

Who now can listen to Staying Alive without thinking of Comfortably Numb. Who can now listen to Pink Floyd without thinking of the Bee Gees. Since the Venn diagram of fans of either type of music DO NOT INTERSECT we have happily juxtaposed horror with a sensation that used to give (dubious pleasure). I cannot begin to understand what pleasure anyone could derive from any aspect of Pink Floyd’s The Wall except perhaps watching Bob Geldof’s acting career go up in smoke, but now mit is physically impossible. Can one hear Hall and Oates without thinking Laura. Indeed the intersection of all these lousy seventies bands with a new one destroys all the retro music lovers. Because one thjing is for sure, it would be impossible to like the Scissor Sisters themselves, at least not without at least two layers of irony.

I have never liked bands who have pseudonyms and dress up. Fundamentally what all hitmen want is a name, and address and a decent photo. I tried setting up a mafia contract on Ana Matronic, and all I got was a positive ID on Mantronix (who I would have gone for but frankly he ain’t troubling the charts anynore). They aren’t even all girls, some sisters they are. Still, one album has done more to destroy a whole decade of crap music than I have been able to do for a while. As long as the cut it out afterwards, I might let them live. If they decided to become binmen under their god given names that is. They are already acqauinted with so much rubbish it would not be a huge culture shock.

I believe The Tin Can Tree was the last of Anne Tyler’s novels that I had not read

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 755 views

I believe The Tin Can Tree was the last of Anne Tyler’s novels that I had not read, until she releases a new one. My reading of her novels follows my usual arc for authors that I really like. Upon discovery, I devour all her books I can find in the local library. Then when moving I come across another batch. Finally by elimination nearly all are read. Equally though my desire flags, as I have read the best, or discover they are all a bit samey. So when I finally came across The Tin Can Tree it was not read straight away. I started it three times, more than a little bit put off by the plot about the death of a young child, bereavement is a regular theme of Tyler’s. It still ended up being the first book I have skipped work to finish this year.

A slight book, merely about the effect the death of the daughter of a family has on all around her. The precision about emotion is what Tyler excels at, especially emotion as displayed and not necessarily experienced. Quite often her characters get to the obvious solution by the hardest possible route. The Tin Can Tree is one of Tyler’s first novels, which you can tell by both its length (which I will write about soon, suffice to say it fits the pulp length) and the age of its key protagonist. As she has aged her leads have tended ‘ though not always – to get older too. Here it is the itinerant twenty-something cousin who is at the centre. Like A Slipping Down Life the youth of the lead does not always belie maturity.

The Tin Can Tree is surprisingly formulaic for Tyler, and the eccentricities of many of her families is less pronounced. It obviously worked for me, but whether that was just rediscovering more of a favourite author rather than discovering her best. As a completist, I am glad I have got it under my belt, but it is also interesting to see an author settling into their style.

I believe it was Lee and Herring who posited the idea of a sitcom based on the experiences of Brian Keenan and John McCarthy.

Do You SeePost a comment • 365 views

I believe it was Lee and Herring who posited the idea of a sitcom based on the experiences of Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. Trivialising what for them was a massive ordeal obviously did not go down well at the BBC and hence it was never made. Instead we now have Blind Flight, the official film. The true story of two completely different men, stuck in a series of manky cells in Lebanon. Based on Keenan’s book An Evil Cradling, Blind Flight was written by the director, and Keenan. But John McCarthy was a script consultant. So do not expect any bombshells about their relationship.

Much has been made about the difference between the men. The film struggles to find it. The film struggles to do much but prop up the idea of two quite brave blokes in a difficult situation helping each other through it. It is almost a self penned love letter to themselves. I am not saying that they do not deserve it, but the whole affair seems so toothless. There is not contextualisation of the situation in Lebanon, no real discussion of the politics involved. Two boil down a four year relationship into seventy minutes of representative conversation and experience is fine, its just that what is representative is so dull here.

Despite great work by Ian Hart and Linus Roach, it feels that this dramatisation was the wrong way to go. The model displayed by Touching The Void, talking heads with wordless dramatisation, might have worked much better, especially considering how loquacious both Keenan and McCarthy are. This hagiography makes its point in fits and starts. Frankly any film coming out after the Passion Of The Christ will have trouble convincing us that having your beard shaved off is really torture, but Blind Flight also manages to under sell the whole issue of time. An experience lasting four years comes across as a long weekend in Bangor.

The sitcom idea was perhaps inappropriate, but sitcoms do understand time. There should be moments in Blind Flight where the futility should resemble Waiting For Godot. Instead as the time whips by at a fortnight a minute, we just get the edited highlights. As for the rendition of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, you are not surprised when their captors up the pain. Too much respect left me without much to return.