Saturday, 31 October 2015

A Friday Night Boy Halloween...

Tony Hancock
H-H-H-Happy H-H-H-Halloween!
from all the FNB, past, present and future...

The Stories of MR James

Olivia Laing
31 October 2015

A large portion of my childhood was spent in the car, driving between my parents’ houses. To enliven these journeys, my father bought a sizeable collection of story tapes. As a consequence, my sister and I know Three Men in a Boat andThe Wind in the Willows almost by heart. But the one we listened to most often didn’t involve benign picnics by the Thames. The Stories of MR James, read by Michael Hordern, was about a different kind of England: misty, haunted, malevolent.

James was a medievalist and provost of King’s College, Cambridge. His stories are populated by dons and curates, people who potter into country churches and take tea in their rooms after games of golf. After acquiring an object – a bone whistle, perhaps, or a painting that has caught their fancy at a county auction – they become subject to disquieting phenomena: small, unpleasant disturbances in the fabric of reality.

To this day, I still find it hard to read “Casting the Runes”, in which Mr Edward Dunning, engaged in research at the British Museum, is cursed by Mr Karswell, a petulant occultist from Warwickshire. The haunting proceeds incrementally, delicately, deliciously, building towards a night of horror. The lights go out in Mr Dunning’s house. When he slips his hand under the pillow to check the time, he encounters not his own familiar watch, but “a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being”.

It’s this tenebrous quality, this paralysing vagueness, that makes James’s stories so lingeringly disturbing. He understood that the half-glimpsed thing is far more frightening than anything encountered in full light. The writhing sheets in “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”; the moving figure that emerges from a print of a country house in “The Mezzotint”: these slippery, malevolent objects have the capacity to unnerve me still.

Listening to the tape while driving at dusk through Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, the marsh country of Essex, it was easy to feel that James had found a way to tap the strangeness of the English countryside, with its crumbling houses, its blighted ash trees and deserted beaches. Even now, in a different millennium, that odd, uncanny power still abides, both in the land and in the stories that came out of it.

The Wailing Well by M. R. James:

Out of our many Halloween favourites, I think this year calls for the return of the Bonzos:

The Face by E. F. Benson:

The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

Helen Dunmore
31 October 2015

A moonlit clearing in a dark forest; a deserted house; a traveller who comes to knock at the door and calls out “Is there anybody there?” The setting is eerie enough, but slowly a deeper and more disturbing strangeness settles. A bird flies up out of the turret and the sills are fringed with leaves. It is a long time since this was a place of human habitation, and yet the house seems to hold its breath as the traveller strikes upon the door. The sound does not echo into emptiness. The air is “stirred and shaken” by the knocking and the cry of the man who seeks entry, but no one responds. There is “only a host of phantom listeners” there. They possess the house. They have never left it, even though green things tangle at the windows and birds build their nests in empty rooms. Like the house, they wait and listen and do not answer “that voice from the world of men”.

At around the 15th line, gooseflesh rises on my arms. It always happens: it makes no difference that I know what’s coming, or that I’ve read the poem dozens of times. The presence of the listeners is so palpable that figures begin to take shape in the imagination. They are there, and not there. They are summoned up, but they will not answer.

Throughout the poem it is the traveller who acts and speaks, but the listeners who lie at the heart of the mystery. There are no stanza breaks: it is all one poem, wrapping itself around the reader like an incantation. Read it on Halloween, and see what comes.

The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.


Three Oncologists by Ken Currie
Three Oncologists by Ken Currie

Kathleen Jamie
31 October 2015

In traditional Scotland, Halloween or Samhain was the Celtic festival when this world and the otherworld were at their closest; the boundary between could be crossed. A sinister time. It was possible to foretell the future. The dead could walk.

It seems to me that Ken Currie’s eerie and brilliant portrait Three Oncologistsoccupies this very Celtic space. It’s an official portrait, commissioned in 2002 by the National Galleries of Scotland. The three men depicted (it would have to be three, like the weird sisters) are Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane, all then of the department of surgery and molecular oncology at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.

It’s a portrait, but far from flattering. Nowhere are the pomp and curly wigs of earlier portraits of surgeons and physicians. Currie’s painting reaches back into another cultural tradition. The three men are lit with a ghoulish inner light; they seem to be haunting the threshold between life and death. They are shown poised to move through a curtain, which is the black cloth of the theatre, the operating theatre, the veil between worlds. This curtain appears also to radiate from the figures, like an aura or ectoplasm. Like mediums, they can move back and forth into that place which is for most of us, an otherworld.

Furthermore, they hold their tools or means: Steele raises his gloved and bloodstained hands, Cuschieri holds a surgeon’s implement, Lane carries a paper. Whose sentence is written there?

Currie's three men are lit with a ghoulish inner light; they seem to be haunting the threshold between life and deathKathleen Jamie

Though it was painted in 2002, I believe the chill of this work lingers from the 19th century, when the medical colleges procured bodies to dissect without asking enough questions, when that demand was satisfied by body-snatching and even murder, as in those committed in Edinburgh by Burke and Hare. The surgery and science that saves us today is built on these misdeeds – Currie’s painting seems to acknowledge that horror. The medics themselves are pallid, corpse-like, but human, all look hunched, raddled, interrupted in their task. Are they slightly guilty? Is what they are doing transgressive? “Spooky” is not the word; there is a greater fear here, that of the unseen patient.

As we grow more able to say the word “cancer” out loud and more of us survive it, thanks in no small part to our surgeons and physicians, this painting will become a historical record of an emotional state, as well as honouring three esteemed medics. But it will still send a shiver down the spine.

Jimmy Giblets: The Butcher of Old Newcastle
A macabre story from our own fair city:

Crowhaven Farm

Michel Faber
31 October 2015

The earliest thing that scared the bejesus out of me was intended to put Jesus into me. It was a Christian motivational film screened at my local church in Boronia, Australia, circa 1969. I must’ve been about nine and let me tell you, nine-year-old boys are not hot on allegory. In this movie, Jesus Christ was a clown. A Ronald McDonald-style clown, in a carnival. Clowns and carnivals are creepy as hell for a start, but the concept of this film (its title, unlike its imagery, did not get branded on my brain) was that the clown was compelled to take on the suffering of everyone else in the circus. So, in the act where the magician saws the lady in half, Pierrot Jesus takes her place, whereupon his mute paroxysms of pain indicate that he’s getting cut for real. In another scene, he’s in a barrel, contorted with agony as somebody thrusts a sword through slits in the wood. I’ve blanked out the rest, but I have an inkling that the climax involved a fatal fall from the trapeze. Jeez! The things we inflict on innocent children …

I’m not actually that easy to scare. Horror movies in which monsters pursue hyperventilating victims to rip out their entrails don’t faze me. I rate the special effects on a scale of 1 to 10, assigning 8½ to commendably exuberant eruptions of innards. But there’s one horror movie which has haunted me for more than four decades: Crowhaven Farm. I’m just one of a worldwide coterie of people who were enduringly spooked by this obscure made-for-TV flick when they chanced upon it in the early 1970s. Meeting a fellow Crowhaven Farm survivor is a deeply affirming experience. So it got you, too?

By modern standards, the film is tame. No eyeballs are punctured, no skulls explode. An unhappily married couple move to an isolated farm in Massachusetts. The plot unfolds in a succession of low-key, unsettling events. The neighbours are friendly and welcoming and (of course) have been waiting for this couple since the 1600s. By the time the wife is out in a field, pinioned under a large wooden plank while her Puritan neighbours pile rocks on top, the awareness dawns that you will never get over how creeped out you are at this moment.


Friday, 30 October 2015

Birth of the Space Age: Cosmonauts at the Science Museum, London 2015

My highlight: Cosmonauts at the Science Museum by Francis Spufford
This beautiful display captures the Soviet space programme as a place for licensed dreaming, and features space relics never before allowed out of Russia

Francis Spufford
Saturday 26 September 2015

The Science Museum’s new exhibition Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age moves from the actual events, spacecraft and personalities of the USSR’s post-Sputnik decade of triumph, into cosmonaut culture more widely – cosmonauts as the political heroes of Khrushchev’s renewed communism, as embodiments of both science and mystical philosophy; in art and film; and as a design cue for a vast amount of Soviet kitsch, from table lamps to cigarette cases to cocktail cabinets. 
Boris Berezovsky, Glory of the Space Heroes - Glory of the Soviet People! 1963
Boris Berezovsky, Glory of the Space Heroes - Glory of the Soviet People! 1963

Cosmonauts, too, as the centre of their own tiny, insular world of privilege and test-pilot superstition: because Gagarin had stopped on the way out to the launchpad and urinated on the right-back wheel of the bus, every cosmonaut on their way aloft did so ever after, and watched the same lucky film the night before, and listened to the same songs.
A poster celebrating the first woman cosmonaut

The obvious coups of the exhibition are its space relics: most have never before been allowed out of Russia, from Valentina Tereshkova’s charred descent capsule to the lunar lander of 1969 that would have carried a single cosmonaut to the moon had the N1 rocket not kept failing. 
But Cosmonauts also does a beautiful job of opening, for the non‑Russian visitor, the peculiar vividness of the Soviet space programme as a place for licensed dreaming, a domain in the heart of the USSR’s military-industrial complex where an authoritarian society permitted itself visions that joined up the socialist future with the Orthodox Christian past, and the “heavens” into which each Vostok and Soyuz flew inherited an older, angelic iconography. 
Boris Staris, The fairy tale became truth, 1961

Paradoxes abound. I had not known that it was the Zhdanovshchina, the brutal imposition of a narrow nationalist cultural policy after the second world war, that lifted Konstantin Tsiolkovsky up from obscurity as a Russian genius, and made spaceflight politically visible – only for the space programme, with its Cold War missile technology, to give the USSR one of its few sources of unforced international acclaim and glamour.

The Road Is Open for Humans by Konstantin Ivanov, poster 1960

BP sponsors the show, and the politics of that are interesting too: supporting Soviet space nostalgia presses the right Russophile buttons for an oil company that wants Putin’s goodwill. Why would you expect innocence, in anything to do with a tyranny’s daydreams? The show is a cabinet of wonders. Don’t miss the chance to see it.

• Cosmonauts is at the Science Museum, London SW7 until 13 March 2016.

Miron Lukianov and Vasily Ostrovsky, Through the Worlds and Centuries, July 1965
Miron Lukianov and Vasily Ostrovsky, Through the Worlds and Centuries, July 1965

Iraklii Toidze, In the Name of Peace, 1959

Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Brief Encounter - a film by Charlie Hedley

I'm looking forward to Ally May's review in The Guardian.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Philip French RIP

Philip French, much-loved Observer film critic, dies at the age of 82
The award-winning reviewer, who wrote for The Observer for 52 years, has died, two years after retiring

Catherine Shoard
Tuesday 27 October 2015

Philip French, who was the Observer’s film critic for 35 years, has died. Following several years of ill health, French suffered a heart attack on Tuesday morning at the age of 82.

He is survived by his wife, Kersti, sons Sean, Patrick and Karl, and 10 grandchildren.

French became one of the country’s best-loved film writers after becoming the chief critic at the Observer in 1978 following a distinguished career at the BBC.

He was named the British Press Awards Critic of the Year in 2009 and given an OBE in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to film. Later that year, when he turned 80, French retired from his position at the Observer, but continued to write every week for the paper.

Observer editor John Mulholland said he was “a giant figure” in the paper’s history and “part of its soul for the past 50 years”.

“He was a brilliant critic whose erudition and judgement were respected by generations of cinema lovers and film-makers alike. He was also a joy to work with, unfailingly warm and generous to colleagues and to the thousands of readers he encountered. He is revered as one of the most astute critics of his generation, whose love of film shone through his lucid and engaging writing. He will be missed sorely, but he will be remembered with affection and respect by his legion of admirers.”

Speaking to the Guardian this morning, his son Sean remembered a man who took seriously his role as a cultural commentator, “pointing people to the excitement and pleasure of the cinema and guiding them to what he thought was important”.

“He was extremely moral about his work. He didn’t see it in any frivolous way. One of the most shocking things to him was the idea of leaving a screening before the credits had rolled. It was one of the worst signs of decadence.”

Even in his final years, French continued his passion for cinema, watching even more movies than when a full-time reviewer.

“He was never going to be one to dig the garden,” said Karl. “And so while being immobile would be catastrophic for some people, keeping his mind alert was what mattered.”

“I think he’d be very happy to be remembered as a film critic,” said Patrick. “He thought it was useful. Right up to day he died, he did what he loved.”

French was born in Liverpool in 1933. He developed an early love of movies – westerns and musicals in particular – as an antidote to bleak, post-war Britain. Even when unfashionable, he championed Hollywood product right through his career.

Employed as a radio producer by the BBC from 1959, French spent a lot of time in America and was highly-knowledgable about US politics as well as culture.

He began his writing career as a reporter for the Bristol Evening Post in 1967 before working as a theatre critic at the New Statesman. French went full-time at the Observer in 1978, a paper for which he started writing in 1963.

Fellow journalists have paid tribute to the writer, with Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw calling him “a great cinephile and a lovely man” and the Times’s Kate Muir a “wonderful, erudite film critic”. Others praised his “immense warmth, wit and good humour” and well as his generosity and eagerness to share his knowledge.

Mark Kermode, who took over as chief Observer film critic in 2013, said:

Philip’s noble, erudite writing elevated film criticism to the level of art. His judgement was acute but always generous, his prose beautiful, his knowledge breathtaking. He was an inspiration to an entire generation of film critics, and was always wonderfully supportive of his colleagues; encouraging, wise and kind. He is irreplaceable.

Sean said that his father was much like the man readers encountered on the page: erudite, enthusiastic and playful.

“If readers felt they knew him it’s because he put his personality into the writing. He was a very funny man, with a slightly grim comic view of the world and this obsessive thing about puns.”

One of the lines of which French remained most proud, he recalled, was the opening line of an essay on British cinema and the Post Office: “I don’t know much about philately, but I know what I lick.”

'I figured I'd retire gradually, just ride off into the sunset ...'
Clint Eastwood is one of the legends of American cinema, and still prodigious at 76 having just completed two acclaimed films. Tonight he is in line for yet another Oscar - some journey for the cowboy who first appeared in Rawhide in 1959. Last week in Paris the Observer's own legend, film critic Philip French, met the American director to discuss a shared love of westerns, the Golden Age of Hollywood and a lifetime in films.

Philip French
Sunday 25 February 2007

Clint Eastwood is the last major figure in international cinema to have served, and benefited from, an extended apprenticeship. Born in May 1930, the son of a blue-collar oil worker who moved around California during the Depression, he had numerous jobs, an interrupted education and an obligatory stretch in the army before becoming a minor contract performer at Universal. Luck intervened when he was signed up to play Rowdy Yates in the long-running TV western series, Rawhide. Luck intervened again when Italian director Sergio Leone, searching for a cheap Hollywood star, brought Eastwood to Italy in 1964 for the first major spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars. Eastwood continued to work on Rawhide while two profitable sequels were made, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This trilogy of violent, cynical movies made him world famous.

Hollywood rushed in and Eastwood became a star. Most important, he established a long-running partnership with maverick director Don Siegel. Their major success was the controversial cop movie Dirty Harry (1971), and Eastwood made his directorial debut the same year in Play Misty for Me, in which Siegel had a cameo role.

After that, Eastwood took his career in his own hands, acting, directing and producing. His first, fully achieved masterwork was The Outlaw Josey Wales, made in the bicentennial year of 1976, and he went on to win Oscars for best film and director on two films, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.

At 76, he has reached his peak with two movies about the Second World War battle for Iwo Jima. Flags of Our Fathers looked at three of the American invaders who helped raise Old Glory over Mount Suribachi and, as a result of an iconic photograph, were whisked home to figure in war-bond rallies. Letters From Iwo Jima, made in Japanese, looks at the invasion from the Japanese point of view. The latter has been nominated for best picture, director and screenplay at tonight's Oscars.

I first met Clint Eastwood 30 years ago at an extraordinary conference of historians, sociologists and film-makers gathered at Sun Valley, Idaho, in the bicentennial week of 1976 to address ourselves to the theme, 'Western Movies: Myths and Images', organised by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Levi-Strauss Corporation, the so-called Cowboys' Tailor. I was there to give a lecture on 'Politics and the Western'. Eastwood was the guest of honour, presenting the world premiere of The Outlaw Josey Wales. I'd rarely encountered a film-maker so open and relaxed.

When we met in Paris last week, he was the subject of the latest editions of France's movie journals, Cahiers du cinema and Positif, and visible everywhere. Looking fit, upright, relaxed, cheerful, he flashed that welcoming grin that is the other side of the taut, menacing face of the Man With No Name in the Leone westerns and the ironically quizzical Inspector Harry Callaghan.

Our conversation took place at the Ritz, the day before he received the Legion d'honneur from President Jacques Chirac.

PHILIP FRENCH What drives you on? You've been involved as director, producer, actor in more than 60 movies in the past 40-50 years and yet a contemporary like Warren Beatty makes one film every five or six years and Terrence Malick makes one every 15 years. Is it the fun of making movies? Is it the Protestant work ethic?

CLINT EASTWOOD It's just a bit of work ethic. It becomes part of my life and, if I have any virtues, which are probably not many, I get fairly decisive about things. When I find something I like, I usually know it pretty soon and I don't have to talk myself into much. I probably shoot from the hip a little more than Warren Beatty or other people. They probably ponder things more and I say: I like this, let's go. I don't sit and dwell on it too much. I dwell on it as I make it.

I guess everybody's a little different. Warren got up at the Golden Globes and he says: 'How do you it - having to do two pictures in one year?' But when I was growing up, Howard Hawks and Raoul Walsh and all those directors made several pictures in one year. There's no big deal. Nowadays, everybody makes a deal that you can't do it, it's an impossible feat. It wasn't an impossible feat. Some of those B movie guys would get the script on Friday night and Monday morning you're starting and here's your cast. They just went with it. It's like being a musician. If you play every day, your embouchure is strong. If you play once every two years, you have to build up all over again.

PF There is a lot of quiet subversion in your movies. The historical revisionism, challenging the conventions of the western, especially in Unforgiven, the treatment of euthanasia in Million Dollar Baby. Are you able to get away with, or to put these ideas across, because you are perceived as a conservative, an upholder of traditional views?

CE I don't know. I heard people criticise me who hadn't even seen Million Dollar Baby. I've heard people say he's done this thing about euthanasia and they'd get all upset. I'd go - wait a second, have you seen the picture? Are you interested in the people? Are you interested in the plight of a man who has never had a relationship with the daughter he wanted to have a relationship with? There'd been something in their history that has been negative and he finally finds the surrogate daughter that he loves desperately and then loses her. Did they really analyse the circumstances? No - so they make a critical judgment. If you analyse the circumstance then it becomes an interesting challenge.

I'm not really conservative. I'm conservative on certain things. I believe in less government. I believe in fiscal responsibility and all those things that maybe Republicans used to believe in but don't any more. Consequently, I think the difference in my country, the difference in the parties, is there's no difference. There are just a lot of people trying to keep their jobs. I'm cynical in that aspect.

I think I can make them [challenging movies] because I do them boldly and because I'm at an age where ... what can they do to me? Once you're past 70, what the hell can they do to you?

You just go ahead and do it. If you put your toe in the water, it's not going to work. You have to jump in.

PF You just spoke about your age. How did you feel about the physical toll and the challenge of it as you were about to embark on this project, with the budgets, the locations, large complicated scripts?

CE No problem. I felt fine. I was in a good physical and mental condition. I have the advantage of a lot of years of experience, and if I can't put it together, then I should not be doing it. You have to feel confident. If you don't, then you're going to be hesitant and defensive, and there'll be a lot of things working against you. In my career as a director, there's always been some point where you get halfway through it, or three-quarters, and you go: what is this thing all about and why am I telling the story. Does anybody really care about seeing this? At that time you have to say: OK, forget that and just go ahead. What were your first impressions, all the things you remember when you fell in love with the project? Put your head down and continue. You can never look back. I don't have that now. I had that maybe 15, 20 years ago. I'd get that moment, the reflective moment. It would come and pass real quickly but now I know it's going to be there, so I don't pay any attention to it. It's just a little bird talking. You just say: get out.

PF Which of the directors from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood would you most have liked to work with and will regret not having worked with?

CE When I came into the business in the Fifties, a lot of those people were starting to retire. I knew Billy Wilder socially and would have loved to work with him. I did work with Bill Wellman on the Second World War film Lafayette Escadrille. I would have liked to work with Mr [Howard] Hawks and Mr [Raoul] Walsh. I once talked to Alfred Hitchcock about working with him. He had a screenplay in mind but he was just in retirement. I asked: when does he want to do this? They said: well, he's probably not going to do the picture - he's just at that stage where he's not physically up to it. I said: OK, I'd love to go meet with him. So I did, and that was great fun. Working with Don Siegel was close to that [working with the greats] because he had worked for so many of those golden age people as second unit director. I learnt what it's like to make something out of nothing. Don used to love to tell a story about Jack Warner. He told Warner that something was too difficult. Warner looked at him and said: 'When is it not difficult? Get out there and do it.'

PF We first met 30 years ago. Would you have been surprised if someonehad said to you then that you would make 30 more movies in the next 30 years but only two of them would be westerns?

CE You're the first person who has pointed this out to me, but I'm surprised. I remember that conference very well. There were a lot of people in the western genre who are no longer with us and it was a fascinating time. I did Josey Wales, and then Pale Rider and Unforgiven. I guess, because I had done quite a few westerns in the early days, that I might have made a few more, but I got away from it in the later Seventies and Eighties, and we were doing The Escape from Alcatraz and Every Which Way But Loose and Bronco Billy. I went off in different directions.

But in 1980, I read a script called The William Munney Killings, which was the working title of Unforgiven; I thought, gee, this would be a great western, but I think I should be a little bit older to do it. And so I bought the screenplay and put it in a drawer, and then, about 1990 or 91, I thought: whatever happened to that? I read it and fell in love with it all over again, and I said that this is nice, and this should be my last western.

PF When it opened, The Outlaw Josey Wales was seen as a political film, an allegory about Vietnam and its aftermath, presented as being about the Civil War. How conscious were you of using the western in that way?

CE I was conscious of it to the extent that I thought it was different from some of the westerns I had done, where the lone person comes to town, gets into conflict. In Josey Wales, from the very beginning, the hero was a person who was a fugitive from war and from the tragedy of war, and all he wanted to do was be left alone. It seemed like the more he tried to be left alone, the more things happened around him, and he was destined to be a warrior whether he liked it or not. But yes, I tried to show, even in that film, the futility of it all. I guess nothing's different today.

PF John Wayne once said that whenever he received a script that wasn't set in the west, he always tried to imagine what it would be like as a western. Does that seem overly reductive to you and how do you react to and evaluate the scripts you come across?

CE I evaluate the scripts or the book, or whatever I'm taking the material from, on its merit. I never compare them to a western. I don't feel I'm married to the genre, though I was brought up in the west, rode some horses when I was young, and fantasised about the western, as everybody did. When I see a story, I ask: is this something I'd like to be in? Is this something I'd like to see? And if I'd like to see it, would I like to tell it?

Now, in senior years, I look at it more from a directorial standpoint. In the early days, I would have looked at a film project like Million Dollar Baby [which Eastwood directed and starred in] and first thought: is this something I'd like to be in? Whereas my first thought of Million Dollar Baby was: is this something I'd like to direct, and then [second] would I like to be in it? Because I'd just finished Mystic River [directing], I was mostly interested in being behind the camera, figuring that my retirement would be rather gradual, and then some day they'll say, get out from behind the camera, and I'll go into the sunset. But right now, I've been enjoying things the way they are.

PF How did you come across James Bradley's book Flags of Our Fathers? It obviously wasn't a film you'd see yourself as being in.

CE A friend of mine is the owner and publisher of the Carmel Pine Cone, the local newspaper in the Monterey peninsula, and he called me one day and asked: have you read this book, Flags of Our Fathers? So I read it and found in it, in a non-fictional way, what we'd done in Bridges of Madison County in a fictional way: having the child find out about their parents after they had passed away. Here was a true story of a guy who didn't know what his father did and the mystery is: why didn't his father ever confide in him about the story? Then we find it was the experience of war, and the guilt of false heroism and all kinds of stuff that made him somewhat of a recluse.

I became fascinated by that, and I tried to buy the book. But it had already been bought by DreamWorks, so I thought Steven Spielberg had some plans for this property. A couple of years after that, I was at an event and Steven came up to me and said: have you ever read Flags of Our Fathers? I told him I'd always liked the book, and he said: would you consider coming over to our company to take it over and direct it? And I said OK. The conversation was just that long. We shook hands and that was it.

PF The emotive word 'father' in the title. Is that important to you personally, in regard to the generation before you, particularly of your father, and what they went through in the Depression and the Second World War?

CE Yes. You always think of what your father did as a young man. My father wasn't in the military, but the great majority of people were at that particular time. We'd just come out of the Depression and went into the war. That's what made America such a good fighting force. It's because they were a bunch of skinny kids off of farms, and out of cities, and they weren't going to have any of this being attacked.

PF When did the idea emerge of making two movies, one from the American point of view, one from the Japanese? Was Spielberg immediately responsive ?

CE The idea occurred at a meeting between Spielberg, screenwriter Paul Haggis and myself. We were talking, philosophising, about the screenplay and how it should be done. I said: I wanted to go to Iwo Jima to look at the island: would it be it feasible to film there? It had been given back to the Japanese in the mid-Sixties, and I didn't know what to expect. We visited the governor of Tokyo - Iwo Jima comes under his jurisdiction - and he gave us approval to look at the island and feel how it was for the marines to come on that deep black sand, with 100lbs on their backs, and climb through that with people shooting at you.

At that point, I started thinking: what was it like for the defenders? I climbed into the caves, through tunnels no bigger than a fireplace, and so I became interested: what are these guys like? I started reading material on General Kuribayashi [the Japanese commander at Iwo Jima] and Baron Nishi [a tank commander]. These people had lived in America and had friends there, and with a few changes of the political structure would have remained friends.

And what's so different about Kuribayashi from every other father in every other country and every other society? Really nothing. All of a sudden, a rich story emerged that would not only be different but would maybe give us some of the communality between the young people being sent off to war, regardless of what society they're in, what culture they're from.

PF You've made two very different movies. One is about horrendous sacrifice that was part of a victory in a just war, as it was considered at the time, and is, by most people, still considered. The other film is a tragic story of defeat and the destruction of a culture. Did you see this when you were conceiving the movies?

CE Yes, I saw the possibilities of this. I wanted to tell full, separate stories and analyse what it is that defeated a group of people, the last elements of a certain mentality, a certain type of culture. The last just war. I'm sure people go into wars thinking they're just, but the Second World War was the great unification of people, because being attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor changed America's mentality. There was a great division in the country then over isolationism: 'We shouldn't be bothering about the European war, that's somebody else's problem', as opposed to the other group that said: 'Yes, we should be coming to their aid.' And there we are. We go off into Korea, which was a police action, it wasn't called a war, and then Vietnam and everything. I guess the Second World War is the last war we really wanted to win.

PF In making a revisionist picture, do you think you've been harder on your own country than on the Japanese? Is there a certain imbalance?

CE No, I don't think so, because they're just different. I wouldn't call them unbalanced because I believe that the American hierarchy, as portrayed in Flags of Our Fathers, was not portrayed in a bad way. You can see the urgency because of the war-time mentality. But by the same token, you can see the sadness in it, the mass confusion of it all. But we're not showing the story of MacArthur or any of the generals or admirals of the Pacific War. We see General Kuribayashi through the eyes of a conscriptee. I don't think there's a lack of balance there; I think that it's just different. I suppose you could have told Flags of Our Fathers from the viewpoint of a military commander, and that would have been different, but these pictures are about the common man - the common man that's required to, at an average age of 19, go abroad and do all this stuff. And I'm sure that the Japanese average was similar, if not younger. The films are meant to be about them.

PF When you were making Letters From Iwo Jima, did you think that you were making not an American film but a Japanese movie? And were you influenced by your experience on the sets of the films with Sergio Leone where the director had to communicate in non-verbal ways or through translators?

CE I just approached it like I was telling a Japanese story of the Japanese people; I didn't think of it in terms of an American movie. I always thought, here's what we're doing story-wise - and I wasn't taking sides in it really. Sergio had the same obstacle as I had. He didn't speak English at all at that time, and I didn't speak Japanese. We had to communicate through interpreters and it worked out OK. The thing we had to overcome here, which Sergio didn't have to overcome, is we had to tell the story in the dialect of 65 years ago, which is a different Japanese dialect than they use now and a lot of different vocabulary. We had a few older Japanese actors, who knew of the older style and so we were aware of that. So not only am I doing it with a language I don't know, I'm doing it with a dialect I've never heard of. When we recorded the kids - because that was a real instance where [a group of children] made this live radio broadcast and sung a song for the men on Iwo Jima - we had to make sure that they learnt the dialect. It was tricky because it had never been recorded. It had only been sent out over the airwaves at that time.

PF Is there anything that has surprised or pleased you about the response you had to the two movies in both Japan and in America?

CE Yes. The response has been really good in Japan. I didn't know what it was going to be, to tell you the truth, as it's bringing this story that no Japanese studied at school. No great volumes have been written about it, and most of the veterans of Iwo Jima were just like Bradley [one of the American flag-raisers depicted in Flags of Our Fathers], only more so. They just didn't talk about it.

I never had the pleasure of meeting any of them because we couldn't find any who wanted to talk about it. It's a little bit different for the Japanese to have some gringo come in there and tell some story they have heard very little of or, for some of the older generation, that has stayed buried. The men of the Iwo Jima Association, I think, were glad to see some tribute being paid to the 21,000 men who were buried, and the 8,000-12,000 still interred in the island with no identification possible. I think they were looking for some closure, and from the letters I've gotten there seems to be an appreciation.

PF What are the war movies you've most admired in the past that have influenced you, and you would most like your films to be compared with?

CE Well, I'd like them to be not compared with anything. I'd like them to be on their own. Films I liked were always obscure little films: Lewis Milestone's A Walk in the Sun, Sam Fuller's Steel Helmet, Ted Post's Vietnam film Go Tell the Spartans. I haven't seen Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front in many years, but it looked at the First World War from the German point of view, and maybe there's a certain similarity to Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. I'm an aficionado, like everyone else, of Akira Kurosawa. His Samurai movie Yojimbo became A Fistful of Dollars. My admiration for him as a director led me into the career I had with Leone and beyond. Circumstances. The wheel goes around.

PF A final question. If you were walking past the National Film Archives and it was burning down, and you could rush in and pick out two films to preserve for posterity, which would you choose?

CE I'd probably have to grab three: Bill Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident, The Grapes of Wrath from John Ford and Steinbeck, and John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

On a winning streak: Eastwood at the Oscars

1993 Won Best Director and Best Picture for Unforgiven. Nominated for Best Actor; lost out to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman

Eastwood recalls that unlike most people he did not want to be woken at 5.30am western time with the nomination news: 'I said: "Just leave it on my machine." I don't want to be studiedly blase. Maybe if the news was bad I was afraid I'd lay there and fret or something.'

2004 Nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for Mystic River. Lost out to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

2005 Won Best Director and Best Picture for Million Dollar Baby. Nominated for Best Actor; lost out to Jamie Foxx for Ray

At 74 Eastwood became the oldest person to win the Best Director Oscar (having faced strong competition from Martin Scorsese for The Aviator), but showed no sign of slowing down in his acceptance speech: 'I'm just lucky to be here. Lucky to be still working. And I watched Sidney Lumet, who is 80, and I figure, I'm just a kid. I've got a lot of stuff to do yet.'

2007 Nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for Letters from Iwo Jima. He faces competition from Babel, The Queen, The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine and once again squares up to Martin Scorsese for Best Director.

He is one of only three living directors to have directed two Best Picture winners (the others are Milos Forman and Francis Ford Coppola). The only director to win three Best Movie Oscars is William Wyler.

Eastwood on acting and directing:

'I like being behind the camera instead of in front of it. I can wear what I want. Will I act again? I never say never. I'm not looking to take it easy.'

Clint's best five films chosen by Philip French

Bird (1988)
Forest Whitaker plays Charlie Parker.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
His first masterpiece as actor-director, a western allegory on Vietnam.

Unforgiven (1992)
Bleak revisionist western, both realistic and mythic. It won Eastwood two Oscars, for Best FIlm and Best Director.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Feminist boxing movie about love, ambition, ageing and family responsibilities.

Flags of Our Fathers/ Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
A Second World War diptych, as inseparable as the first two Godfather films.

... and his most underrated: A Perfect World (1993)
A road-movie thriller set in Texas on the eve of the Kennedy assassination.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall, October 2015 - reviews

Bob Dylan review – a leap out of his own songbook
Royal Albert Hall, London
Dylan finds a happy groove, reshaping his best-loved songs and applying his still potent lung power to the back-catalogue of American croon

Kitty Empire
Saturday 24 October 2015

Lit by cinematic floor lamps glowing a vintage, incandescent yellow, Bob Dylan strikes an attitude at the microphone – wide-legged, his thumbs pointing, Fonz-like, at the tight band behind him, satisfyingly enigmatic under the shadow of his hat brim.

When Dylan’s voice eventually emerges from his slight, black-clad frame, it is not quite the ruin routinely bemoaned by some fans. This latest iteration of pop’s most infamously idiosyncratic instrument still packs power, but Dylan chooses to use it sparingly.

On songs like Scarlet Town, from 2012’s Tempest album, or Pay in Blood, culled from the same, it’s a maleficent sneer that reaches the back of the hall effortlessly, suited to the venomous weight of the words. This is the Dylan most people pay to see: the voice of righteousness, a storyteller of wearied compassion, the one effortlessly selling out five nights at the historically significant Albert Hall – among the many other resonances, the Beatles watched him play here in 1965.

So often predictably unpredictable, this year’s leg of Dylan’s Never Ending Tour seems to have settled into a kind of groove. Dylan no longer just bashes at a keyboard, as he did around 2011; he plays piano with delicacy.

This troubadour doesn’t actually handle a guitar all night, but saunters, as though saddle-sore, between the grand piano and his mic stand, suddenly whipping out a harmonica on Tangled Up in Blue, a version almost faithful to the one playing in fans’ heads.

Tonight’s set list is substantively the same as Paris a couple of nights before, with just the odd song swapped around. It’s mostly of recent vintage – the dark swirl ofTempest, with a side order of Time Out of Mind (1997), a dash of Modern Times (2006) in the easy-going Spirit on the Water, liberally sweetened with the covers of Frank Sinatra songs drawn from his latest album, Shadows in the Night, released in February.

On these, Dylan hangs up his mutter and tacks left into a rueful croon for a series of love songs. This is, though, the croon of some old Gallic roué, claiming his last 40 years of philandering didn’t mean anything, that he really loved you alone; a croon with plenty of suspicious baggage. You suspect he is singing his love for these songs, rather than about any lady in particular. Playing off against plangent lap steel, he invests songs like Why Try to Change Me Now with a particular depth of feeling. (“I’ve got some habits even I can’t explain,” he harrumphs).

On Melancholy Mood, it sounds as though Dylan is actually singing in French – the product of the song’s brushed-tom left-bank feel, and his own wayward, syllable-munching delivery. Ironically and perversely – when you consider they were mostly written not by the pop form’s acknowledged living master, but by niche backroom songsmiths – these love songs might be some of the night’s most enjoyable passages, not least for Dylan himself. (One Bobcat on Twitter does suggest that some wag shouts “Judas!” after one of the Shadows in the Nightcovers; I didn’t hear it). The twinkle of the band and the pedal steel guitar played by Donnie Herron contrast with Dylan’s racked gargle.

Necessarily, the high notes are long-forgotten fripperies; and the melodies of Dylan’s famous tunes, rearranged out of existence in the decades since their recording. Anyone wanting to hear a Catholic take on, say, Like a Rolling Stone needs to wait until the gig is over, and make their way to South Kensington underground station, where the busker gives the former his all.

Alternatively, there is The Cutting Edge 1965 – 1966, the long-awaited 12th instalment of Dylan’s bootleg series, released on 6 November in a variety of formats. The six-CD set has an entire disc of alternative takes of Dylan’s most emblematic song; the 18-CD version has every note of music recorded in the sessions for Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde; surely on every superfan’s letter to Santa.

Dylan himself, you suspect, would regard all that ephemera with one of his piercing, high-horse stares. When he plays Blowin’ in the Wind, it is virtually unrecognisable, unless you are hanging on to his every exhalation. Herron plays the fiddle, and Dylan throws scansion on to the fire, making one of the most famous entries in the Great American Songbook into a cross between a sentimental lament and an Irish drinking song.

Bob Dylan, Royal Albert Hall
Delivering a perfect 'Tangled up in Blue', Dylan is in as fine a voice as ever

Tim Cumming
Thursday, 22 October 2015

Two years ago, Dylan played his best concert in years here at the Royal Albert Hall, the dim stage circled by vintage movie studio lights, and circling Dylan a band seasoned enough to bottle its own oil, delivering a new kind of quiet, late-night music. The broad unpredictability may have had gone, but so had those too-common troughs in quality and penchant for urban barns in Wembley. Could this new quality – forget the width – be sustained?

After the release this year of Shadows in the Night, recorded at the same Capitol studio Sinatra used, with the same band that joins him tonight, a couple of those songs made their way into set lists for a largely open-air 2015 Summer European tour of piazzas and festivals. Dylan must like European venues, because he’s back for the autumn, and evenings beset with songs from Shadows in the Night – a shifting hand of seven from a regular 20-song set; there's also five songs from his powerful 2012 album, Tempest. That there are just two songs from the Sixties – “She Belongs to Me” and “Blowin in the Wind” – shows you the distance present-day Dylan is from the decolletage of the Sixties legend (about to be celebrated in a concertina of CDs for the new Bootleg Series 12, The Cutting Edge).

You notice the odd way he walks, as if solid ground was something he was unused to

This opening night, the first of five at the Royal Albert Hall, has a different kind of edge, but it cuts deep. In many ways, his show is not geared towards the first-timer, though it accommodates them, by the renewed sense of order rather than breakdown in Dylan’s voice, and the seasoned assurance of his band, pretty well all of whom have served life terms (bassist Tony Garnier since the late Eighties), dressed like convicts, huddled like a gang and playing tight as two coats of paint on one piece of soundboard.

As for Dylan, it looks like he's wearing those pimpish brogues he sported on Love and Theft. Maybe they have powers, because he paces, struts, almost dances, looking focused and animated under that wide-brimmed hat, revelling in his own renewed powers of intonation, that subtle phrasing with ragged sides. You notice the odd way he walks, as if solid ground was something he was unused to.

From the great Nineties opener, “Things Have Changed”, through to the closing “Autumn Leaves”, the evening feels like a single cohesive body of work that won’t keep still or be tied down. The scattering of Sinatra-era torch songs and laments, undressed to their folk-blues core, are in a totally different spectrum to Dylan’s – even deliberately antique late-period pieces like “Spirit on the Water” – and they act like punctuating bands of colour and contrast, of hope and regret, scattered through Dylan's own songbook driven more by destiny and fate than sentiment.

Moments that stand out? A perfect “Tangled Up in Blue”, adhering to the familiar album version and with just one or two of those ongoing verse changes Dylan has made over the decades – I think the song’s palette is always wet paint for Dylan to play with. He brings a powerful new sense of light and shade to Tempest songs like "Pay In Blood", "Early Roman Kings" and "Scarlet Town".

Dylan himself performs superbly – compact and intense, no pretence, no drifting, no errata. You feel this is it, we have found the point where the tight connection between audience and artist finds its balance. As each of the Sinatra-era songs began, there was a blush of applause across the Hall, a kind of audience-artist recognition. His own songs entered the room silently, and exited like old champions; two songs from the end, “Long and Wasted Years” (with some new lines) got a standing ovation. What was good in 2013 seems to have just got better. He’s in his better voice than ever, the band is unsurpassed, and I love how those big Film Noir movie-set lights circling the musicians dim to near-darkness between songs.

Someday (maybe not tomorrow, but soon...) people are going to talk about these shows the way they talk about 1966, or Rolling Thunder. It’s like watching Picasso paint in Clouzot's film from the Sixties, under hot lights, on glass plates. Through the songs, many different figures and landscapes appear, and disappear. This is great work and it's more than worth your time to be its witness. Still rolling, Bob.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Maureen O'Hara RIP

Maureen O’Hara, Irish-Born Actress Known as Queen of Technicolor, Dies at 95

Anita Gates
24 October 2015

Maureen O’Hara, the spirited Irish-born actress who played strong-willed, tempestuous beauties opposite all manner of adventurers in escapist movies of the 1940s and ’50s, died on Saturday at her home in Boise, Idaho. She was 95.

Johnny Nicoletti, her longtime manager, confirmed her death.

Ms. O’Hara was called the Queen of Technicolor, because when that film process first came into use, nothing seemed to show off its splendor better than her rich red hair, bright green eyes and flawless peaches-and-cream complexion. One critic praised her in an otherwise negative review of the 1950 film “Comanche Territory” with the sentiment “Framed in Technicolor, Miss O’Hara somehow seems more significant than a setting sun.” Even the creators of the process claimed her as its best advertisement.

Yet many of the films that made the young Ms. O’Hara a star were in black and white. They included her first Hollywood movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939), in which she played the haunted Gypsy girl Esmeralda to Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo; the Oscar-winning “How Green Was My Valley” (1941), in which she was memorable as a Welsh mining family’s beautiful daughter who marries the wrong man; “This Land Is Mine” (1943), a war drama in which she was directed by Jean Renoir; and “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), the holiday classic in which she played a cynical, modern Macy’s executive who tries to prevent her daughter from believing in Santa Claus.Photo

Perhaps the best remembered of her color films was the director John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” (1952), the second of five movies in which Ms. O’Hara starred opposite John Wayne. Her character, the proud, stubborn and passionate Mary Kate Danaher, refuses to consummate her marriage to the Irish-American boxer played by Wayne until he fights for her dowry. And so he does.

As the film historian David Thomson once observed of her screen persona throughout her career, she was “inclined to thrust her hands on her hips, speak her mind and be told, ‘You’re pretty when you’re angry.’ ”

Those hips were likely to be dressed in the fashions of another era. Of the more than 50 films she made, about half were period pieces. She played saloon queens and ranch wives in westerns like “Buffalo Bill” (1944) and “Rio Grande” (1950), with Wayne; Arabian princesses in the likes of “Sinbad the Sailor” (1947), with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and “Bagdad” (1949); the object of pirates’ affections in swashbucklers like “The Black Swan” (1942), with Tyrone Power, and “The Spanish Main” (1945). She even played a pirate captain herself in “Against All Flags” (1952), with Errol Flynn.

Wayne once paid her what he considered the highest compliment. “I’ve had many friends, and I prefer the company of men, except for Maureen O’Hara,” he said. “She is a great guy.

Maureen FitzSimons was born on Aug. 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Ireland, on the outskirts of Dublin. She was the second of six children of Charles FitzSimons, a clothing-business manager and part-owner of a soccer team, and the former Marguerita Lilburn, a singer. Maureen began appearing in school plays as a child and was accepted as a student at the Abbey Theater in Dublin when she was 14.

Her Hollywood movie career almost did not happen. After she appeared in two British musicals, “Kicking the Moon Around” and “My Irish Molly,” in 1938, a screen test was arranged by a British studio. Ms. O’Hara was horrified by the results, particularly the way she looked in the heavy makeup and the gold lamé gown with strange, winglike sleeves that she had been given to wear.

But Charles Laughton happened to see the test and, he said, liked something about her eyes. He promptly cast her in the crime adventure “Jamaica Inn” (1939), of which he was a producer as well as the star. The film was Alfred Hitchcock’s last British project before moving to Hollywood. Ms. O’Hara ended up moving, too.

In her first two decades in the United States she made some 40 feature films, including five with Ford, a sometime friend and sometime enemy whom she later described to the Irish newspaper The Sunday Independent as “an auld devil and cruel as hell.”

In 1960 she played the title character in a television remake of “Mrs. Miniver,” and overnight, it seemed, she was transformed from the fiery young love interest to the dependable, well-preserved wife/mother/widow.

There was one last, notable exception: She played a dance hall girl in Sam Peckinpah’s western “The Deadly Companions” in 1961. But her best-known films from that period were “The Parent Trap” (1961), “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (1962) and “Spencer’s Mountain” (1963).

Long before the paparazzi roamed Southern California, Ms. O’Hara had a memorable encounter with a celebrity tabloid. In 1957, the magazine Confidential published an article that accused her of improper amorous behavior in a public movie theater. She sued for libel and presented her passport to prove that she had not been in the country when the activity was supposed to have taken place. The case was eventually settled out of court, but it contributed to the magazine’s eventual demise.

Ms. O’Hara was married three times. In 1939, just before she left for the United States, she wed George H. Brown, a British film producer who later became the father of the magazine editor Tina Brown. That marriage was dissolved in 1941, and that same year she married her second husband, Will Price, a writer and director. They had a daughter, Bronwyn FitzSimons, and were divorced in 1953.

Fifteen years later she married Gen. Charles F. Blair, an Air Force aviator who operated Antilles Air Boats, a small Caribbean airline. The couple lived in St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, and she largely left show business behind, choosing to publish a magazine, The Virgin Islander, for which she also wrote a column. She took over Antilles after General Blair’s death in 1978.

Ms. O’Hara eventually returned to film, playing the overbearing mother of John Candy’s character in the 1991 comic drama “Only the Lonely.” Over the next decade she starred in three television movies: “The Christmas Box” (1995), “Cab to Canada” (1998) and “The Last Dance” (2000), in which she played a retired teacher helped by a former student (Eric Stoltz). It was her final screen appearance.

Ms. O’Hara received an Irish Film and Television Awards lifetime achievement honor in 2004 and published an autobiography, “’Tis Herself,” the same year.

She is survived by her daughter, a grandson and two great-grandchildren.

Although Ms. O’Hara took on dual citizenship, she was intensely proud of her Irishness. She served as the grand marshal of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1999. When a journalist asked her in 2004 how she remained so beautiful, she explained: “I was Irish. I remain Irish. And Irish women don’t let themselves go.”

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Last night's set list at Old Princeton Landing, Half Moon Bay, California

Are You Ready For The Country
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Southern Man
After The Gold Rush
Words (Between The Lines Of Age)
On The Beach

Our foreign correspondent singing On The Beach, proudly wearing the colours in the hope that our boys will put in an inspired performance on the Dark Side on Sunday.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Beach Boys' Party! - Uncovered and Unplugged and about to be released

Let’s Get This Party Rolling: Capitol Readies “Beach Boys’ Party! Uncovered and Unplugged

Joe Marchese
22 October 2015 
Following the release of The Beach Boys Today! and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) earlier in the year, Capitol Records was eager to make yet more Beach Boys music available for the 1965 holiday season. The label urged Brian and the Boys into the studio to record Beach Boys’ Party!, an album filled with loose versions of familiar favorites, complete with laughter and background talk. Now, that LP filled with freewheeling good vibrations is getting a surprise 2-CD deluxe, expanded edition to mark its 50th anniversary. Beach Boys’ Party! Uncovered and Unplugged is set for release from Capitol on November 20. It features a whopping 81 tracks – remixed, remastered and expanded from the original sessions before overdubs were added for party ambiance.

During the Party sessions held at Western Recorders in August and September 1965, the group tore through Beatles songs (“I Should Have Known Better,” “Tell Me Why,” You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), Phil Spector classics (“There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”), goofy novelties (“Alley-Oop,” “Hully Gully,” “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”), a Bob Dylan standard (“The Times They Are A-Changin'”) and even their own songs (a goofy romp through “I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe”). But the standout was Fred Fassert’s old Regents hit “Barbara Ann,” featuring a moonlighting Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean on vocals. It was plucked as a single and quickly became another Beach Boys staple. Armed with just acoustic guitars, bass, bongos, harmonica and tambourine, the Beach Boys created an album unlike any other in their catalogue.

“The Party! album was a result of the pressure Capitol Records was putting on us for another album,” Mike Love recalls in Capitol’s press release. “And we didn’t really have time to develop the type of album we wanted to develop, which Brian was working on, called Pet Sounds… So we said, ‘Well, what can we do quickly and easily?’ And we decided to do this party album.” Brian Wilson remembers, “Mike was saying, why not a party album and we can act like we are [at a party], and just be ourselves on tape, you know?’ And that’s what happened. It was a very spontaneous album.” After sessions had been completed, the Beach Boys returned to the studio for a three-hour session to add “party sounds” and dialogue to the album. These overdubs have been excised from this release.

The true stereo mix of the original Beach Boys’ Party! made its first appearance in 2012; this 2-CD reissue goes much further. The first disc features the original album as remixed in pre-overdubbed form and then chronologically begins an account of all five sessions as the band runs through the familiar tracks as well as ones that didn’t make the cut including The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Leiber and Stoller’s “Ruby Baby” and “Riot in Cell Block No. 9,” The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” and more. Dialogue from the sessions has also been included. The total is 81 tracks over two CDs.

This 2-CD and digital album also includes photos from the sessions, essays by [the inestimable] Beach Boys historians Alan Boyd and Craig Slowinski, and notes by producer Mark Linett.
The Beach Boys, Beach Boys’ Party! Uncovered and Unplugged (Capitol Records/UMe, 2015)

Disc 1

The Album (Original album released on Capitol Records MAS-2398, 1965)
Hully Gully [Session #2 – 9/8/65]- Lead Vocal: Mike
I Should Have Known Better [Session #3 – 9/14/65]- Lead Vocals: Carl & Al
Tell Me Why [Session #2 – 9/8/65] – Lead Vocals: Carl & Al
Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow [Session #3 – 9/14/65] – Lead Vocal: Brian
Mountain Of Love [Session #3 – 9/14/65] – Lead Vocal: Mike
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away [Session #5 – 9/23/65] – Lead Vocal: Dennis
Devoted To You [Session #3 – 9/14/65] – Duet Vocals: Brian & Mike
Alley Oop [Session #3 – 9/14/65] – Lead Vocal: Mike
There’s No Other (Like My Baby) [Session #3 – 9/14/65] – Lead Vocal: Brian
I Get Around / Little Deuce Coupe [Session #4 – 9/15/65] – Lead Vocal: Mike
The Times They Are A-Changin’ [Session #5 – 9/23/65] – Solo Vocal: Al
Barbara Ann [Session #5 – 9/23/65] – Lead Vocals: Brian & Dean

The Sessions
Let’s Get This Party Rolling [Session #2 – 9/8/65]

Session #1 [8/23/65]
I Should Have Known Better #1 – Lead Vocals: Carl & Al
Ruby Baby #1 – Lead Vocal: Brian
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction #1 – Group Vocals: Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al, Mike
Hully Gully #1 – Lead Vocal: Brian
Blowin’ In The Wind – Solo Vocal: Al
Dialog: “The Sunrays”

Session #2 [9/8/65]
Ruby Baby #2 – Lead Vocal: Brian
Dialog: “The Masked Phantom”
Hully Gully #2 – Lead Vocal: Mike
Dialog: “Carl, Go Get Your Bass”
Hully Gully #3 – Lead Vocal: Mike
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction #2 – Group Vocals: Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al, Mike
Dialog: “That’s A Bad Guitar” – Piano: Brian
Ruby Baby #3 – Lead Vocal: Brian
Dialog: “What’s The Matter, Carl”
Ruby Baby #4 – Lead Vocal: Brian
Dialog: “Carl’s Tires”
I Should’ve Known Better #2 – Lead Vocals: Carl & Al
I Should’ve Known Better #3 – Lead Vocals: Carl & Al
Dialog: “Wasn’t That Great Folks?”
Tell Me Why #1 – Lead Vocals: Carl & Al
Don’t Worry Baby – 12-String Acoustic Guitar: Carl
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away #1 – Lead Vocal: Dennis
Little Deuce Coupe #1 – Lead Vocal: Mike
California Girls -Lead Vocal: Mike

Disc 2

Session #2 [9/8/65], Continued
She Belongs To Me/The Artist (Laugh At Me) #1 – Lead Vocal: Mike
Fooling Around: Hang On Sloopy/You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’/Twist And Shout – Lead Vocal: Mike
Riot In Cellblock No.9 #1 – Lead Vocal: Mike
Fooling Around: The Diary – Lead Vocal: Bruce
Dialog: “I Think We Better Do This Next Week” – Piano: Brian

Session #3 [9/14/65]
Dialog: “Let’s Cook Now And Eat Later”
Tell Me Why #2 – Lead Vocals: Carl & Al
I Should Have Known Better #4 – Lead Vocals: Carl & Al
Dialog: “What I Want To Do”
Dialog: “Are We Still In The Party?”
Mountain Of Love #1 – Lead Vocal: Mike
Dialog: “Where’s Denny?”
Devoted To You #1 – Duet Vocals: Brian & Mike
Dialog: “What Are You Doing Now”
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away #2 – Lead Vocal: Dennis
Dialog: “This Phony Party” / Ticket To Ride – Lead Vocal: Al
Alley Oop #1 – Lead Vocal: Mike
Alley Oop #2 – Lead Vocal: Mike
Dialog: “Tune It Like It Is”
There’s No Other (Like My Baby) #1 – Lead Vocal: Brian
There’s No Other (Like My Baby) #2 – Lead Vocal: Brian
Dialog: “Do The Splits”
Devoted To You #2 – Duet Vocals: Brian & Mike
Devoted To You #3 – Duet Vocals: Brian & Mike

Session #4 [9/15/65]
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away #3 – Lead Vocal: Dennis
I Get Around – Lead Vocal: Mike
Little Deuce Coupe #2 – Lead Vocal: Mike
Mountain Of Love #2 – Lead Vocals: Mike & Brian
Ticket To Ride #2
Riot In Cell Block No. #2 – Lead Vocal: Mike
The Artist (Laugh At Me) #2 – Solo Vocal: Mike
One Kiss Led To Another – Lead Vocal: Mike

Session #5 [9/23/65]
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away #4 – Solo Vocal: Dennis
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away #5 – Lead Vocal: Dennis
Dialog: “What Did You Stop Us For Chuck?”
The Times They Are A Changin’ – Lead Vocal: Al
Fooling Around: Heart And Soul/Long Tall Sally
Fooling Around: The Boy From Nyc
Smokey Joe’s Café – Lead Vocal: Mike
Dialog: “I Got One More”
Barbara Ann #1 – Lead Vocal: Brian
Barbara Ann #2 – Lead Vocals: Brian & Dean
Barbara Ann #3 – Lead Vocals: Brian & Dean

RETRO: ‘The Beach Boys’ Party!’ (1965)

Rick Simmons
Retro, Reviews
6 June 2015

If I asked you to name your favorite Beach Boys album, what would you say? I’m guessing many of our readers might say Pet Sounds, and that’s a valid response given that it’s one of the most critically acclaimed albums ever recorded. Some might say Endless Summer, because although it was a greatest hits compilation, it brought the Beach Boys to a whole new generation of listeners (like me) in the 1970s when they’d been more or less out of the limelight for a few years. Or maybe Surfer Girl? Wild Honey? Surf’s Up? My point is that I have a feeling I’m in the overwhelming minority of Beach Boys fans who would answer with The Beach Boys’ Party!

First and foremost, by any standards it’s an odd album, a concept album before there were concept albums. The idea behind Party!is that it was supposed to be a live performance taped one evening while the Beach Boys were just kind of sitting around in the company of friends. They knock out a few songs accompanied only by acoustic guitars, a tambourine, a harmonica, and bongos, and their friends chime in on vocals once in a while as well. They sing a few old favorites, some new favorites by other artists, and even throw in a couple of their own songs. There’s background chatter, girls laughing, and a fair amount of joking around and misremembered lyrics as they enjoy themselves as they sing one song after another in one continuous take. If I’d heard it when it was released in 1965, I’m betting I would have thought it was exactly what I would have imagined a Beach Boys party to be like.

Except the whole thing was one big fabricated put-on, and unlike the first grader I would have been if I’d heard it in 1965, today I’m wise enough (and cynical enough) to know there’s no way this was a live, one-take party album. Granted, it’s so seamlessly engineered that one track flows right into another and it literally does sound like they sat down, played and sang for a little more than half an hour, and recorded it all the while. If there was a Grammy for “Best Sound Engineering” or whatever back then (and I’m sure there wasn’t), this album should have received it. The reality is, though, that the group recorded this over a period of many days, and it was heavily edited and carefully crafted to sound like an impromptu recording. Despite the fact that it sounds seamless, a number of aborted attempts to casually sing songs were excised because they didn’t work so well. This included versions of the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,” and others, the best of which is the Drifters’ “Ruby Baby” (which appeared for the first time on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys box set in 1993). I would assume they chose the 12 songs that seemed to work best and included those here. What follows is my take on those songs, and despite what seems to be a somewhat non-commital introduction here, I really love this album.
Tracks 1 and 2: “Hully Gully” and “I Should Have Known Better”

I’ll admit the first two tracks are pretty disposable. Track #1 is a forgettable, if harmonious version of the Olympics’ “Hully Gully,” followed by a somewhat discordant version of the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better.” It was pretty ballsy to cover a Beatles tune when both groups were at the height of their popularity, but with this version the Beatles clearly had nothing to fear: the Beach Boys acoustic version is little better than what you might have heard at summer camp in 1965 with everybody singing it around a camp fire. Both of these are okay, but nothing special.

Track 3: “Tell Me Why”

It’s with the third track, this time another cover of a Beatles tune, that the album starts to build momentum. On the Beatles’ A Hard Days Night LP “Tell Me Why” was probably the weakest track on the album, but the Beach Boys do a really nice job with it here. It lends itself well to the live/party atmosphere, and although very few songs from this album surfaced again on greatest hits albums and the like, Brian Wilson apparently did think enough of “Tell Me Why” to include it on Spirit of America, the 1975 album that was released to follow up the monstrously successful Endless Summer collection.

Track 4: “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”

Listen to “Tell Me Why,” and at the end you’ll hear them start playing around with the Rivington’s “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow.” When the video above ends, click on the one below. That’s how they flowed together on the original album, and here they do a really fun version of “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow.” Despite the fact that Brian Wilson and Mike Love share lead vocals, they sound a bit raw at times, but that’s what you’d expect of a real impromptu session (if it had been one).

Track 5: “Mountain of Love”

I didn’t care for a lot of Johnny Rivers stuff outside of “Secret Agent Man,” but honestly this Beach Boys cover made me reconsider his music. I know it’s rough, crude, and disharmonius at times, but somehow it feels right. And as I later discovered, Rivers’ version is a pretty good song after all.

Tracks 6, 7, and 8 : “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Devoted to You,” and “Alley Oop”

Perhaps no song sells the Beach Boys Party! idea better than the cover of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” It’s not a great song, and Dennis Wilson’s vocals are no match for John Lennon’s to be sure, but the girls seem to have a lot of fun with it, especially the “Hey!” parts. Unfortunately, it’s the only song on the album Dennis sang lead on and it does nothing to sell his ability as a singer. The group’s cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Devoted to You” has nice harmonies that the Beach Boys’ voices naturally lend themselves to, so it’s a pleasant track. The Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” was a silly novelty song when they released it, so it seems an appropriate cut for Mike Love’s clowning around as the lead singer on the track. It sounds exactly like you’d expect a bunch of people to sound like if they were sitting around drinking and singing.

Track 9: “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”

This song, originally recorded by the Crystals, is a strange choice for several reasons. First, it’s a girl-group song, and so it took some gender switching with the pronouns to work. Secondly, its a slow, love ballad, so it’s not as raucous as most of the tracks. When they kick in at about the 18 second mark, the Beach Boys harmonies have never sounded better, and if nothing else that makes it a track worth hearing.

Track 10: “Medley: I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe”

Fans surely would have been disappointed if they hadn’t attempted at least a song or two that they’d recorded themselves, but that’s a pretty risky proposition. If you hear them sing it acoustically, and as close as it gets to a cappella, you’ll hear exactly what the guys sound like sans the magic of the studio, which might not be a good thing. Of course in this case we are in fact hearing a studio album despite what the record implies, but that may make it even a harder task: make the record sound good, but not over-produced and artificial. The answer seems to be to clown around and sing the songs in a way that shows they weren’t serious. There’s a lot of joking, lyric changes, and the like, but when the harmonies are on, they’re fantastic. One thing is for sure — after this track you were convinced that party with Beach Boys would be a helluva of a good time.

Track 11: “The Times They are a-Changin”

For the penultimate effort on the album the group forays into a completely new area, a song by Bob Dylan. Whereas the Beatles tracks they’d covered were standard pop fare, “Times” is clearly not your run-of-the-mill pop song. Before the song begins, Al Jardine, who will handle lead vocals, says “It’s a test song. It was a protest song.” Again there’s a lot of joking around, so much so that there’s no fear that the guys will become folk rockers. It’s just a nod to one of the other great contemporary artists of the time.

Track 12: “Barbara Ann”

The pièce de résistance here is a cover of the Regents’ “Barbara Ann,” which had risen to #13 on the charts in 1961. It just so happened that Dean Torrance (of Jan and Dean fame) was in the studio that day and he and Brian Wilson shared lead vocal duties on the song. At the time the group’s previous single, “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” had stalled at #20 on the charts, and the group was looking for a hit. Listener response was apparently good for this cover of “Barbara Ann,” and so Capitol decided to release it as a single. It went all the way to #2 on the charts in 1966, becoming the one and only single hit from this album. It is, unquestionably, a classic.

In many ways, the Beach Boys’ Party! was a benchmark. It was their last record that belonged largely in the realm of the simple surf, cars, girls, and “let’s have some fun” music that had come before it, and maybe the inclusion of songs by Dylan and the Beatles should have been an indication that indeed times were a changing. Pet Sounds was their next album, and “God Only Knows,” “Wouldn’t it Be Nice,” “Sloop John B” and the other tracks found there were an entirely different, more mature type of Beach Boys’ music. Maybe some listeners weren’t quite ready for the “new” sound: Beach Boys’ Party! rose all the way to #6 on the national album charts, while subsequently the now-legendary Pet Sounds peaked at #10. In the UK, the album also made an impact. Both “Barbara Ann” and the album peaked at #3 on the British charts, making them the Beach Boys’ highest charting album and single on the British charts up until that time. But any way you cut it, it was a unique, and fun, record, and in some ways the last vestige of those innocent early years of Beach Boys music.

‘Beach Boys; Party! Uncovered nd Unplugged' 
50th Anniversary 2CD and Digital Album Features 81 Songs and Dialog Tracks Culled From The Beach Boys’ ‘Party!’ Studio Sessions

Los Angeles – October 22, 2015

In November 1965, The Beach Boys released Beach Boys’ Party!, a creative and well-loved album of covers mixed with separately recorded party sounds created by the band members, their families and friends. ‘Party!’ was a Top 10 Billboard hit, quickly going Gold and spawning the timeless No. 2 smash hit, “Barbara Ann.” To celebrate the popular album’s 50th anniversary, The Beach Boys have overseen a remixed, remastered and expanded edition, Beach Boys’ Party! Uncovered and Unplugged, which removes the overdubbed festivities from the 12-track original album’s mix and adds 69 more songs and dialog tracks culled from all of the band’s ‘Party!’ recording sessions. To be released worldwide on November 20 by Capitol/UMe, the 2CD and digital album also includes photos from the sessions, package essays by Beach Boys historians Alan Boyd and Craig Slowinski, and notes by the new edition’s producer, Mark Linett. A vinyl LP edition of the ‘Party!’ album’s original 12 tracks, remixed and remastered in the ‘Uncovered and Unplugged’ style, will follow on December 11.

Over the course of several long sessions at Western Recorders in Hollywood, California in August and September of 1965, The Beach Boys recorded what was, essentially, the first “unplugged” rock & roll album, with instrumentation limited to acoustic guitars, bass, bongos, harmonica and a tambourine. Joined in the studio by a few friends and collaborators, the band ran through many of their favorite songs of the time, including hits by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and others, even spoofing two of their own biggest hits – “I Get Around” and “Little Deuce Coupe” -- with self-parodying renditions. The Beach Boys’ version of The Regents’ “Barbara-Ann” (released by The Beach Boys minus the title’s original hyphen), included on the album, leapt up the Billboard singles chart and became one of the band’s signature songs, beloved by fans around the world.

“The ‘Party!’ album was a result of the pressure Capitol Records was putting on us for another album,” explained Beach Boys founding member Mike Love. “And we didn’t really have time to develop the type of album we wanted to develop, which Brian was working on, called Pet Sounds… So we said, ‘Well, what can we do quickly and easily?’ And we decided to do this party album.”

“Mike was saying, why not a party album and we can act like we are [at a party], and just be ourselves on tape, you know?” recalled Beach Boys founding member Brian Wilson. “And that’s what happened. It was a very spontaneous album.”

After the band wrapped recording sessions for the album’s songs -- plus many additional songs -- they returned to the studio with friends and family in tow, for a three-hour session to record party sounds and chatter to be mixed with the songs for the freewheeling Beach Boys’ Party! album. Removed from this new ‘Uncovered and Unplugged’ edition, the mixed-in party sounds remain intact on the original album, which was most recently remixed in stereo for reissue by Capitol in 2012.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Gary Katz on Steely Dan and music production...

Steely Dan’s Producer Talks Recording, Mixing, and More
Gary Katz on Producing

Mike Levine
26 March 2014

During Steely Dan’s original incarnation, the band produced a string of classic albums that are admired equally for their smart and catchy songwriting, amazing musicianship, and state-of-the-art recording quality. Through that whole time, producer Gary Katz was a key member of the Steely Dan team, helping Donald Fagen and Walter Becker produce their acclaimed music. This was all done before the advent of digital recording, so achieving the sonic perfectionism that the band strove for took a lot of hard work.

Katz, has also produced artists like Laura Nyro, Joe Cocker, and Root Boy Slim, and continues to work as an independent producer. His latest project is an album called The Real Me, by vocalist Frank Shiner. Katz spoke with us about his production techniques, the differences between producing in the analog and digital eras, and a lot more.

When you work on a project, as the producer, how do you see your role?

My main contribution is to have the artist perform what he does at the highest level he can. I work with whoever the artist is and generally the artist comes with their idea for the project or their own songs, and it's my job to get them to perform what they do the best they can.

What sort of techniques do you use to do that?

There are no techniques, because every artist is unique. So you have to adapt to the artist, not just personality, but style of working. It can't be your style, you have to adapt to the style of the artist and make that work. That's how I work.

You've been producing for many years and have seen the transition from the analog to digital, which has obviously changed a lot in terms of what you can do to a recording and how you can manipulate it. Has it changed your approach as a producer much?

Absolutely. It changes everybody’s. The ability to utilize technology to make records now is a world different than what I did for many years before there was Pro Tools-like gear. It has changed everything.

Is there anything that you miss, other than the sound, of the analog days.

I thought I would, but no. It's hard to miss that when you can utilize technology.

If the digital tools we have today were available when you were working with Steely Dan, how would it have changed their recordings?

We would have saved millions of dollars. If you can sing one chorus and fly it everywhere you want, instead of having to sing every note of every double or triple. Yeah, it would have saved us a lot of time, money, and wear and tear. It was a big deal to us. We made records where there were choruses that would repeat often — here, there — if we could have just flown them in.

Did they play to a click?


I guess you could edit the tape of the 2-track mix to rearrange songs?

Our songs were set in stone. You had to perform it, there was no flying [parts around].

Did this perfectionism come from Becker and Fagen, or was it a combination of the three of you?

It was also [legendary engineer, the late] Roger Nichols

He was engineering it mostly?

Entirely for a good time.

Whenever I hear a demo of studio monitors at a NAMM show or something, they always play Steely Dan songs. The quality of your recordings have always been highly respected in the audio community. Were you consciously trying to raise the bar on what could be done in the recording studio?

We weren't trying to raise the bar of anything. We were just trying to make the records we were making sound as good as possible. We did, obviously care about the sound of the record, the quality of sound. It came from all of us. I mean there was [also] Denny Diaz, who was part of the band. It was just intuitive and it was built into the project. Nobody said anything. I never heard, "We have to make this sonically better." What I did hear was "It doesn't sound good enough," and then we would do what we had to.

Wasn't there a famous incident where an assistant engineer did something and the tape got eaten. How did that happen?

A song on Gaucho got erased. It was going to be the single. It was terrible. We walked in the studio, and he [the assistant engineer] was on the floor crying — and worse than that. It was a bad situation.

Did you re-record the song?

I insisted on re-recording it. Usually, if we were in the studio recording a song and it took us a really long time and we didn't get exactly what we wanted with it in those hours — and we worked with the best musicians there were — we'd say, "It's not the guys, it's something wrong with the song," and it would get dropped. But "The Second Arrangement" [the song that was erased] was my favorite song on that album, and I insisted we do it again, and we did. But it left a bad taste and we didn't use it. It didn't come out as well as any of us wanted. We had this fabulous recording that we all loved, and it sort of died with that.

Did you guys have a particular mixing workflow? Did you work off of a rough mix and then try to tweak it, or did you start from scratch?

We started from scratch and I cannot recall our ever remixing anything. We mixed it and it was done. It took a long time.

Your mix sessions were long?

I don't think so, in those days, considering we had no automation. We had 10 hands on the console.

So the mix was like a performance?

It was.

Having Roger Nichols as your engineer must have really helped.

Roger just was technologically ahead of his time, and he was as much a part of what we did as any of us. We couldn't have made the records we did without him.

Do you think that if there’d been Auto-Tune and time correction back in those days that they would have used it a lot?

Auto-tune, that wasn't our problem, Donald always sings in tune. It was just, was he in great voice that particular day? Phrasing and pitch, that was not a problem with him, ever. But, I think what we'd utilize more than anything is the ability to fly things around. That would have been the key for us. For instance, the song “New Frontier” on [Fagen solo album] Nightfly. This is just an example. Donald played a keyboard part that repeated itself almost through the entire song that needed to be perfect, or it just didn't feel right. He had to play every note of that for 5 minutes. If he'd only had to play 8 bars, we'd have been done in 45 minutes instead of 8 hours. Things like that.

Did Becker and Fagen have have the songs written when they got to the studio, or did they write in the studio?

Every note and lyric was done before we hit the studio.

Was there any preproduction?

No, we never did one demo of a song. We had the band when we started for the first two records, and they were really good players, and then when we were in a position where we could utilize other musicians, we used the best musicians in the world, from Jim Keltner and Bernard Purdie to Chuck Rainey, we just cherry picked who we wanted. So the songs were written, and they were structured, and we put the music in front of the musicians — nobody ever heard a note before we went into the studio — we'd bring in the guys, they sat down, and we made the record that day with them. We didn't want them to hear the songs beforehand. We wanted their first thoughts.

Do you have a favorite Steely Dan album or song?

I'm proud of almost every track we did. Katy Lied is probably my favorite [album].

Having heard how pop and rock music have developed between those days and now, are you real excited about a lot the new stuff, or do you feel like it's not the same as it used to be?

I'm definitely not excited about it. [laughs] I'm not even sure how to describe it. No, I don't like the music very much now. It feels very repetitive, not creative. With exceptions obviously, there are always exceptions.

Do you think that the fact that people have so much technology is impacting musical creativity, because musicians don’t have to work as hard to produce professional-sounding tracks?

Yes, exactly. You can sit home in your robe, put your feet up, push a button, and you have a drum track. Obviously, it is what it is, you can't put that paste back in the tube. But it's not as musically pleasing to me — most of the time.