Posts from 15th November 2004

15
Nov 04

Ol’ Dirty Bastard and John Balance, RIP

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Ol’ Dirty Bastard and John Balance, RIP

Not that much connects them in an immediate sense. Seemingly the only reason to think of them both off-hand would simply appear to be the accidental timing of their deaths on Saturday. ODB = famous, scored hits, guested on others, a known figure thanks to the events that too easily overshadowed the music. Balance = obscure, known certainly by aficionados. One part of a monumental hip-hop crew and then equally distinct on his own, another part of something generally summed up as ‘industrial,’ thanks to historical connections mostly, and always seen to be part of it rather than a solo figure. One collapses in a record studio lounge suddenly, another falls to his death from a landing to a lower floor. Within minutes both were gone.

So no, there was no lost strange collaboration single or remix tying them together, more just the kind of connections which occur as people listen and consider things — such as how Balance’s friend and occasional collaborator Marc Almond would express his love for the RZA’s work in general in the mid-nineties (at least Almond survived his own brush with death recently). But today on the way into work, having thought quite a bit about ODB over the weekend and then suddenly having learned about Balance’s death this morning, I thought more about them both, wanting to summarize somehow what I felt about both.

ODB was and I still think is my favorite of all the Wu-Tang bunch, setting aside RZA for his production and musical ability as being in his own plane. Though I had Enter the 36 Chambers shortly after it came out, I was impressed rather than totally taken by it, and had set it aside somewhere in the archive. But in 1996 Return to the 36 Chambers came my way as part of a promo mailout — shows you how actively I was paying attention to things, I admit — and something about even the cover, humorous and inventive (the Wu-Tang logo buried in the background of the card, for instance) caught my attention. And man if it wasn’t a great album then and now — what I realized in retrospect were some of the most off-kilter and distinctive moments on Enter got a full showcase here, with ridiculous humor and sheer creepout vibe playing off each other constantly.

It wasn’t a full and sole RZA production, to be sure, but the album as a whole felt like and feels like a true collaboration — what was already established as RZA’s particular metier (bring on the piano lines) became a weird goth playground for ODB to be both capering jester and compelling invoker of demons, even if they’re the ones in your head that are better to laugh at than to fear. His voice was one, is one, that I always respond to like that of so many deep-voiced free-flowing growlers past and present, something that cuts against the music as much as works with it, that calls attention to itself and therefore sets the tone and forces the song forward. Those echoed calls on “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” when he says he likes it RAW! are a perfect example but they’re just one of many.

Nigga Please is less of a favorite of mine but by degrees rather than because I hate it — it’s more giddy and ridiculous but the tears of the clown surface in subtler ways, which make them no less powerful — and of course it has one of those, for me, few — very few — moments where the Neptunes AND Kelis worked perfectly together, “Got Your Money,” proof like any more was needed that humor not only worked for him but for music in general. Giddy, enjoyable, doesn’t age at all for all that it’s from a time and place — Chuck Berry was stuck with “My Dingaling” as his biggest single, ODB’s reputation will never suffer with a killer like this around, with opening lines like this:

Ohhh baby
I dedicate this to all the pretty girls
All the pretty girls
All the pretty girls, in the world
And the ugly girls too
Cause to me you’re pretty anyways baby

You give me your number, I call you up
You act like your pussy don’t interrupt
I don’t have no problem with you fucking me
But I have a little problem wit you not fucking me

There was much more, of course, the various collaborations and one-offs and the like — and then there was everything else in his life, which I’m not going to talk much about, outside of the article I read that described his life in prison as being something utterly miserable, beyond the mere fact of being in prison in the first place. To me that’s the sad thing about it, how the circus in his life and of his life eventually took precedence over the music in some eyes, though thankfully not all. Not a new or surprising thing to say, but still depressing to see it in action.

Balance, on the other hand — I can’t say when exactly I first heard him, or more accurately heard Coil. They just sorta were already, by the time I was working at KLA in the late eighties and a single or two came in from Wax Trax, I think. Over time as I learned more about and began to understand more clearly what the whole tangled family tree of Coil and where it came from meant, my knowledge and appreciation of the band grew accordingly, though albums and songs were only ever acquired in fits and starts. But somewhere through it all came this strange speak-sing voice, equally as compelling as ODB’s but much different sounding, dry, light, but no less immune from invoking demons and dread.

Balance to my mind is always locked in, quite understandably, with figures like Steven Stapleton and especially David Tibet, invoking a Britain that is and isn’t at the same time, a state of mind rather than a place, something to transcend and analyze and see rotting at the edges and at the core. That said Coil wasn’t just that, and wasn’t just either band in a musical sense — arguably it wasn’t even a ‘band’ in ways, more an extended partnership and project, something that just slowly evolved. Peter Christophersen’s already established ethos of separating ‘commercial’ work from the creative, something he was already doing even before Throbbing Gristle, eventually meant Coil could function on its own terms and in its own way as desired — albums, singles, releases would appear as desired, continuing snapshots as Christophersen and Balance worked and lived and loved.

Balance could be tender and careful, quiet and meditative, his seeming remove in his singing voice lending a dreamlike quality to the results. The nightmares, though, they could be equally powerful. The wracked cover of “Tainted Love” is a slow crawl to the grave and Balance’s delivery accentuated that, never losing control, very perfectly balanced (forgive the pun) with the music. But perhaps the song that I’ve been obsessively singing over in my head today, due to the conditions of Balance’s death and the role of alcohol, is “Heartworms,” originally released on a compilation and then featured on the Foxtrot album that was originally compiled and released precisely because of Balance’s long-term struggle with drink. Hearing Balance’s voice singing this — wracked, sad, not declamatory but not shy either — was already chilling and now forever will be:

There’s too much blood in my alcohol
There’s too much blood in my alcohol
There’s too much blood in my alcohol
Demons generally enter in
Demons generally enter in through my ears
I don’t like what I hear
I don’t like what I hear
I don’t like what I see
I don’t like what I see
Ghosts vomit over me
Ghosts vomit over me
Ghosts vomit over me
Liars through my eyes
There’s too much blood in my alcohol
There’s too much blood in my alcohol
Can’t get enough to numb me
Can’t get enough to numb me
Can’t get enough to numb me
Can’t get enough to numb me

Now both ODB and Balance are voices of the dead. May they rest well after lives that were not easy.

Stand Up And Be Counted

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Stand Up And Be Counted

This is the very definition of “responsible public advocacy”

DON’T WORRY OLD FELLOW – WE’RE ON OUR WAY!

London TV Station

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London TV Station

Not sure how long it’s been operating, but in an effort to watch anything but Hollyoaks, I came across this station yesterday. It’s 244 on Sky and I’m not sure other providers can get it at the moment.

It’s presenter led and quite snappy, magazine style television. It seems to be aimed at locals and tourists (how are the latter going to see it?). Benjamin Zephaniah read a poem, some Americans gave a concise answer to the capital’s delights (“Awesome”) and the same footage appeared in three different (unrelated) segments.

Still, better than Hollyoaks.

NOT MAD AFTER ALL SHOCKAH

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NOT MAD AFTER ALL SHOCKAH

Last night in the pub we were discussing the Diversity Awareness yummy chocolate sweets, Vice Versas. From this we moved on to Scrollers and then Tasters, Cadburys attempt at rebranding Scrollers (no need, if you arsk me but hey, who is), when Tom Ewing of this parish spits out in disgust:

“UGH! Revels are the worst! You always get a bag full of the ones you don’t like, I HATE the strawberry!”

Cue the rest of the parishoners staring at Tom in confusement.

“Perhaps I hallucinated them”, he says.

We change the topic.

BUT TODAY IN TESCO I found for the first time ever, ALL NEU REVELS with a PINK BLOCK on the packet advertising a NEU MYSTERY FLAVOUR!

“Ir cannot be!!!”, I think.

But it is!! Revels have now kicked off a brand new flavour. So either Tom isn’t mad or HE HAS PREDICTED THE FUTURE. Not bad doings for a Monday, eh?

FRANK IFIELD – “The Wayward Wind”

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#147, 23rd February 1963

The wayward wind was no longer all blowing in Frank Ifield’s direction. The harmonica splashed all over this track is surely a response to the Beatles’ liberal use of same on October’s “Love Me Do”. On both songs the instrument stands for freedom – romantic in the Beatles’ case, metaphysical in this ode to wanderlust. Unfortunately Ifield sings the song like a suspiciously butch scoutmaster – you half-expect a percussion track of slapped thighs, and when his voice breaks into a yodel the effect is rather unfortunate. That’s not to say “The Wayward Wind” isn’t good. In fact it’s a very funny record: Ifield’s hearty bellow, the yodelling, the hostage-to-fortune title and the stirring music make for a preposterous package. Campy fun now, but this is where Ifield (ahem) blew it.

JET HARRIS AND TONY MEEHAN – “Diamonds”

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#146, 2nd February 1963

The saturnine Harris and fresh-faced Meehan were ex-Shadows, and even though they didn’t write “Diamonds” its curious structure makes it sound like the work of people keen to cram as much as they can into a short time in the spotlight. The record switches between extended drum solos (Meehan), lonesome country atmospherica driven by moody bass runs (Harris), and an incongruous chunk of horn-led jive. Frankly it’s a bit of a mess, but a very entertaining one, with a character and bite their former band were beginning to run out of.

WATCH WITH* MOTHER

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WATCH WITH* MOTHER: The Hunt for Lord Lucan

*mark s watches 20 mins alone b4 suddenly thinking that mum s might not know this is on as it’s on BORING CHANNEL FOUR*
mark s (shouts up stairs): there’s a programme abt lord lucan on!
mum s: what!! my lovely lord lucan!!** how much have i missed? has his sister been on yet?
*time passes – programme ends*
mum s (later that evening): was his sister on it at all?
mark s: sally? yes, earlier on. she came across badly: she was all “we didn’t think much of her, she didn’t really understand people like us, she was out of her depth” – erm actually sally, lady lucan is the one who wz bludgeoned with lead piping, not yr brother. “people like us” sounds a bit terrible in this context
*long gloomy silence*
mum s: of course i did hear that thing from someone unconnected, who heard from another nanny – that lady lucan once screwed the head off a kitten***
*long gloomy silence*
mark s: yes you told me before
*long gloomy silence*
mark s: “twisted” is probably a better than word “screwed”, unless the kitten had a screw-on head
*long gloomy silence*

*Technical difficulties led to some stretching of the term “with”: viz my mum put her back out last week and so was watching TV from her bed, while I wz watching downstairs. (My parents’ house is turning in David Bowie’s in The Man Who fell to Earth…) (but in a good way)
**ulp this needs glossing! mum has long threatened to write a book called “murderers i have known”: this wd feature i. dr buck ruxton, whose kids went to the same primary school as her (he butchered his wife and nanny in the 40s and was seen later picking the children up with a SINISTER PLASTER ON HIS FINGER) (the bodies were cut up and hidden in a scottish stream except he wrapped the bits in pages from the filey advertiser so wz caught after all); ii. lucan (mum wz at school with one of his sisters – see above); iii. mum’s dad had a friend who was “very interested in doctor crippen”
***DISCLAIMER: this claim is of course unsubstantiated gossip of the most meanest kind

THE SHADOWS – “Dance On!”

Popular7 comments • 3,087 views

#145, 26th January 1963

A title that promises business as usual; a song that delivers just that. Solid Shadowy entertainment that only really takes off when the guitar decides to turn into a mountain bike and kick up some dirt.

CLIFF RICHARD – “The Next Time”

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#144, 15th January 1963

Cliff is generally most effective when he’s most gentle, and this sleepy ballad does its job with smoochy aplomb. Cliff’s considerate tones aren’t really what makes a forgettable tune work, though – the lovely, echo-cushioned piano should take most of the credit.

Popular ’62

Popular8 comments • 854 views

A missing Popular Year poll for your deliberation. As ever, I give a mark out of 10 to every hit – here’s where you can say which ones YOU would have given 6 or more to. The last year of pre-Beatles British pop – dredge your memories….

Which of these 1962 Number Ones Are Any Good At All?

View Results

Poll closes: No Expiry

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