Posts from 29th April 2005
It’s indescribable. But the guy who was interviewing him does his very best. And you know, Bizzy’s enthusiasm is incredibly infectious. When he starts essentially freestyling over the background music, it’s even better. (It also helps that the introductory Missy/Cam’ron combination is killer.)
I just used the phrase “blue-sky thinking” in an email. And I meant it. (To the extent that one can mean the meaningless.)
Suggested penances in the comments box welcome.
One of the most enjoyable presentations at EMP was Douglas Wolk’s piece on the secret history of bespoke jingles recorded by seriously credible rock bands and soul artists, specifically the “Things go better with coca-cola” jingle that Coke ran with throughout the later 60s. Each band would record something that could be one of their own tracks, and then seque into their version of the coke jingle.
The paper was fascinating not only for the glimpse it gave of a pop/commerce interzone at the height of rock’s most fetishized period (a franchise in Eden, so to speak) but also for the demonstration of how easy it is for most musicians to pastiche themselves. The coca-cola jingles show how consciously reproducible “style” is for a band – as an insight into how ‘filler’ is created they’re a rich resource.
The Rolling Stones did not record a coca-cola song. But they did, at the dawn of their fame, do this jingle for Rice Krispies, a rockin’ endorsement of the rather unhip breakfast snack. I mentioned it at a post-EMP meal to general gogglement so I said I’d let them hear it when I got back to England. And now I have.
Much has been written about how much Douglas Adams is honoured in the new Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy movie. Nothing has been written about an equally significanct nod to another god of radio. Look at the posters to Hitch-Hikers, the ones on bus shelters. Quickly, and think to yourself the following:
John Malkovitch is Tommy Vance.
If you want to know how I feel about the Hi house band, backing for Al Green and other soul greats in the ’70s, I revere them at length in this article. I was disappointed at the absence of Howard Grimes, the nest best thing to Al Jackson on drums, and Charles Hodges especially – no one else ever played organ like he did, and it didn’t feel at all right with a different sound in there with his brothers Teenie and Leroy. This was, I admit, a bit unfair. Percy Wiggins was the first guest singer, and he’s a really good mainline soul singer, but I wasn’t getting into it. Then he sang the first (a capella) words of one song, and I felt myself tense.
I’ve written some about great moments in music recently. I’d been working on one about the moment after Al Green’s first lines of ‘Love And Happiness’, when Teenie Hodges gets going on guitar. It was when Percy started on this that I knew instantly that this was a make or break moment for my feelings about the gig. Would they retain the perfect simplicity of that, or fuck it up. My hands came together in a prayer position and I was wishing so hard… and Teenie nailed it perfectly, as if it had never been in doubt. I don’t really imagine their playing got better after that, but from then on I was theirs.
I was surprised when Ann Peebles came on next – I had assumed she was headlining – and with two new musicians. She did a couple of fine quiet numbers with them, then the house band returned and she did some classics – with her organist being intensely annoying, gesturing at the Hi musicians as if he was conducting them. They were obviously paying no attention. Peebles looked, I thought, better than she did in the ’70s, which is remarkable for a 58 year old, and sounded great – she’s lost nothing of her strength, range and control. Why the hell wasn’t she top of the bill? I mean, I like Syl Johnson a lot, but could he really top her?
Of course, I’d not seen him live. A minute in, and it was hard to imagine many bills he wouldn’t top. He’s a better singer than I’d grasped, a good harmonica player, a very good guitarist, a terrific mover and dancer (at 67, an astonishing one), great at patter, like stand-up comedian good, and overloaded with charisma. Suddenly it felt like he was in charge, that these people I revere like few others were his band. As impressive and commanding a performance as I’ve seen from a singer since, I should think, Jarvis Cocker a decade ago – though maybe a bit too much of the patter and not enough serious singing at times, but he can get away with it easily.
Before his biggest number, the great ‘Is It Because I’m Black’, he said he’d sign things for people afterwards, then pulled out two CDs and said “But don’t ask me to sign these. They’ve been out for a few years from Ace, and I’ve not seen a dime.” A guy in the audience jumps to his feet and says he’s something or other from Ace, and he could discuss this after the show. “I don’t want a discussion, I want paying.” “We can discuss that after the show…” Cue a list from Syl: the Wu-Tang Clan used this song on one of their records. They paid me good money… And others who’d covered or sampled his songs, labels that had reissued things and so on. I should add that I’ve no idea of the truth of anything there, it’s just what he said.
Anyway, it was a storming and triumphant show, from that key point on, and I felt honoured to see these people playing in the UK for the first time.
Oil Of Olay, unlike other anti-aging creams, deals with the seven signs of aging, not just wrinkles and lines. Seven stages? What are these? And how exactly does a face cream deal with cellular degeneration, senility, impotence and tutting when youngsters come on the television with their modern rap music?
I tend to think that all screwball comedies of the thirties are a priori better written, directed and acted than any comedies being made these days. The awful truth is that this is not the case, and actually the superior batch are a small bunch (Preston Sturges and His Girl Friday amongst ‘em). How do I know this? I just watched The Awful Truth, Cary Grant & Irene Dunne in a flyweight divorce comedy. It has its moments, Cary Grant is as blasé and debonair as ever. But the film lurches from set-piece to set-piece without any real investment from the viewer.
The film starts with Grant trying to hide from his wife that he has actually spent his two week holiday in California rather than Florida. She wanders in late with her Italian singing teacher who she has spent the night with. The pair distrust each other so agree to get a divorce. There is a very artificial plot device of the divorce taking eighty days to take effect, not that it would matter if reunite afterwards. And the film apportions blame very one-sidedly. Dunne’s socialite is shown to be the match to Grant, be she gets to burden all of the blame, there is never any real investigation of his infidelities. In the end the film brings the warring couple to the understanding that for all of (or because of) their flirtations they cannot live without each other. It could be quite a forward looking piece. But it is just the cinematic forerunner of Mad About Alice (terrible Jamie Theakston sitcom), as episodic and on the whole lumpen. Which for all its gaudy screwball trappings, cannot be considered a good thing.
Just as we long ago nicked the idea for the Focus Group from ‘legendary’ US zine Radio On, so the Focus Group itself has now been borrowed by Stylus magazine for a weekly feature in which a panel of the great and good – now including me – review each week’s UK single releases. It was with immense satisfaction that I discovered that my harsh marks on my maiden outing may have prevented the completely execrable Helen Love from winning it this week. (Originally I thought I’d run the reviews not picked by Mr Swygart here but it seems bad form somehow, plus he seems to have picked the right ones.)
I expected to see the themes, and the overall story of The Graduate in Charles Webb’s original novel.
I really, really did not expect to see the set pieces directly in the novel. Mrs Robinson naked and the whole race to the church at the end are so visual, such staples as classic cinema that it comes as quiet a shock to see these described almost identically in the book. You can see why they made the film. The book pushes the zany runaround more than the film, and it’s Benjamin is a lot less likeable. But it is a breathtaking two hundred page read, which does urge you to watch the film with it in your hand. The film is probably more iconic and will outlast its snappy but perhaps more ironic source. Pointless middle-class angst seems like a remarkably tame subject now, but Webb does eviscerate it mercilessly. It gets into much more dangerous territory with its idea of a love affair. Frankly Benjamin is a scary stalker and Robinson Jr should stay well away from him. But at least in the book he is a convincing 21 rather than the dirty old man in a young mans suit Dustin Hoffman played him as.
The EMP pop conference mixes journalists and academics to good effect. They form a continuum whose parameters are argued and sketchily defined over three super-stimulating days. At one end of the continuum are the heavily jargonised theory papers which make zero concession to the untrained: the giveaway here is people using “speak to” when they mean “talk about” (“Can you speak to the specificity of identity in your ideas of the cyborg?” “I’m glad you asked me that”). At the other end are extended magazine features – hey hey listen to THIS and THIS! and THIS!!?. All my favourite papers were in the middle but some of the most useful were on that kind of fannish tip. Elijah Wald’s paper on the intermingling of nortena and hip-hop, for instance, liberally sprinkled with sound samples of which the most fascinating were by a band called Akwid. Here is an Akwid album) Wald concluded by exclaiming “We NEED more tubas in hip-hop”. I tracked down an Akwid track and was delighted to find that the band sounded just as entertaining as they did splashing colour into the EMP auditorium.