Monday 30 May 2011

Silent movie locations

Chaplin's City Lights

The Beverly Wilshire Hotel

For more, see:

Out and about with Prefab Sprout #14

New album of material that the public haven't heard or a new album of new songs? A solo album under the band's name? A band album?  Paddy and Martin recording as Prefab Sprout...?

Whatever; hope he shaves the beard off!

Van Dyke Parks in Mojo

Old interview, I know. See:

Van Dyke Parks' Singles Club
9:00 AM GMT 05/05/2011

Van Dyke Parks, songwriter, arranger and the co-creator of Brian Wilson's legendary Smile project, will play a rare London show next month in support of new vinyl singles project - six 7-inches are confirmed for release. Speaking to MOJO from his home in Pasadena, Califronia, Parks, in his inimitably cinematic style, talks of his loathing for the CD, his love of sleeve art, the courage of the pioneering musician and the not-so-small matter of the soon-to-be released Smile Sessions. "Religion, to me," he tells MOJO's Ross Bennett, "is music."

Your new singles project kicks off this month. Where did the idea come from?
Well, I did my first short tour last year and some reporter had the audacity to say to me, "What have you done lately? What's new?" It was like Moses being asked for an 11th Commandment!

What was your immediate response to that?
This is it! I've decided to record! Of course, I'm totally redundant to the record business, but I love the song form so much. It is my obsession. It meets my need and my attention span very well. I'm putting these records out on my vanity label, Bananastan; my wife had a stall on a flea market in Paris for six years, and it's named after that. Now it's time to put out some product. Well, I don't have an album in me. Also, I don't believe people have any patience for a through-line or an exposition. They want it now. A shuffle mentality, that's what I'm dealing with. Perhaps people will just listen to part of a song. The times have changed and in this staccato environment, I decided to put out some music.

And you've decided to put it out on vinyl...
I despise the CD. I despise the form. It's ugly. It's impossible to catalogue easily on a shelf. It is, as Ry Cooder would say, "taking up too much space, man." So I got the irreducible minimum in the highest fidelity that we can bring, in a stereo 45rpm vinyl disc. There will be two songs on each single and each will be beautifully sleeved. With vinyl you're taking a sharp picture of a sharp object. You can only take a fuzzy picture of a sharp object if you have a CD! My dad once told me he didn't care which church I went to; he said, "Just put your hand on a stone somewhere." To me, that's like holding a record. But to avoid being precious, I decided to make a big career decision. I'm going to make sure that the songs are downloadable and convenient for the casual observer.

Which visual artists have contributed to the project and can you talk about some of the songs you've written?
Ed Ruscha - worth a Google. Art Spiegelman, who absolutely captured the moment of 9/11 that changed my life, and the song I then wrote called Wall Street, wherein a man and woman fall in love holding hands, as they flame their way through a rain of confettied blood. Art Spiegelman captured that beautifully. There's Money Is King - a great calypso song that I have eviscerated. It was by that Growling Tiger [AKA Neville Marcano] and came out in 1937. It's time for us to have songs that agitate for a change of heart. How much is enough for anyone to have in an age in which an undeveloped world aims its planes at towers.

There I am, agitating! I am an uncloseted liberal who speaks peace in our time. That shows in the songs. I came to my senses to discuss what has been happening in my own life. Of course, not just 9/11, but there was [Hurricane] Katrina. I was born in Mississippi. The hospital where I was born was blown through entirely. That's eighty miles from the shore.

There is another artist called Charles Ray - worth a Google. And we've got Frank Holmes who did the original Smile artwork that so inspired me and Brian. To complete that dangerous, reckless thought of a folie à deux, craziness of two people... it was three! It was a troika. And Frank Holmes' artwork was very much a part of that.

You've been involved in the marriage of the audio and the visual before. In the early '70s, you held a position at Warners as Audio/Visual Director. What exactly did that involve?
The artists at that time were being pushed into narcotic roadwork. There's Janis, Jimi... there are other lesser-knowns who are of great importance to me, like Lowell George, people who actually died in pursuit of making ends meet. They signed record contracts that made little. I came to understand what those contracts were and I was amazed. I figured, "Let's have a new income stream for these artists." I managed that each artist would get 25 per cent of the net. That was absolutely unheard of. Of course, they did something entirely different after I left that office. The artists ended up getting nothing. In 1910, a song would sell for 10 cents, five of it went to the author, and the other five went to the publisher.

Have you always had a visual relationship with music?
When I was a kid, I was in live television shows in New York City. Back then everything was dialogue-driven and people even thought things! In one of these events [a Campbell Playhouse episode called The Corner Druggist, 1954] I was nine years old and I was the star of the show. There was an old woman by the name of Lillian Gish. Lillian Gish was reduced to a cameo role in a thing that I was starring in. Lillian Gish was one of the girls who made the film industry! The director told me, "Son, you be nice to that woman."

I turned to her - I'm nine, she's probably 80 - and I said, "Ms. Gish, I hear that you were a great actress and that you made an industry with your beauty in the silent film era." She said, "Oh, that's very nice of you, young man." I said, "Ms. Gish, weren't you apprehensive when you heard that talkies were coming?" I was going to get Ms. Gish on her Achilles' heel. She turned and said, "That's a very good question. Actually, when we heard that sound was coming to film we didn't call them talkies. We all just assumed that when sound came to film, it would all be music." That is the power of it to me. That is the place to be.

Your debut album Song Cycle has become a touchstone for some of today's most experimental artists. How do you feel about your early solo work today?
You know, I find people seem to be more flexible now. I work for people like Joanna Newsom and they make me feel like the Rock of Gibraltar. In other words, there is more tolerance for... for the flamboyant and a more flaming individuality. And that's very healthy. You can't reach anything great without that kind of courage. I think that's contagious. One thing that is not false or overpublicized is the thing that drew me to Brian Wilson - his courage. That's the same quality I saw in Harry Nilsson when he reinterpreted those old songs. I mean, he aced it! But absolutely going retro was so counterculture and it took courage. You know, I love the Liverpool taxi cab drivers' motto, "Boldly going forward because we can't find reverse." That's become my philosophy! I'm here so I'm going to go ahead.

The Smile Sessions are finally being released in September. When somebody mentions Smile, what's the first thing that pops into your head?
Crows over a cornfield [a reference to the Parks-penned line in Smile's Cabinessence]. I hear the box set is going to be absolutely beautiful. It will be very comforting to see that it's finally commercially available.

How has your relationship with the songs on Smile changed over the years?
I really think they're fine. I don't see any septic quality in them at all. In fact, the unvarnished truth is that they are without malice. Please bring that into the contemporary framework! But I wish, darn it, that it hadn't had so much celebrity. The celebrity of it got in the way. Otherwise, it would have been fine.

Religion, to me, is music. What Brian brought to the table was a closeted understanding of low-church hymns. I knew that that man had a divine regard. That's what really made me want to serve his interest with all my heart. We were coming from entirely separate arenas - he from right-wing comfort and me from the left-wing shock therapy of being out in Los Angeles with no money. I think our common thread was that we shared that music.

Smile is a kind of fevered reimagining of Americana...
One time I was at college, studying music, and Aaron Copland came into the room to teach. I was the only undergraduate composition major. I got an A and a pat on the ass. The point is, Mr. Copland was asked during that class, "What is American music?" He said, with a shrug, "American music is anything written in America." I thought that was unforgettable. I like that.

What can we expect from your upcoming British live shows?
I'm 68 years old. I'm not going to pretend to be Mick Jagger. I don't want to jump around like the sea of wrinkles. I can't do that. I'm not an athlete! I have to carry my own bags. I'm just shooting the dice where I think they should be shot. I'm emphasizing what I can. I'm bearing witness to some truth. My preference is a small room where there are people participating. I'm amazed and touched that I'm getting what I think is a proportional response. It has been different. Here, one day, I was sitting at a restaurant, couldn't get served. I was the oldest thing in the room. My friend Elliot Ingber from the Mothers Of Invention was sitting there. Finally, the foxy lady, the waitress, was circling and everybody else was getting served. So Elliot went to the waitress and said, "Hey lady, you don't know who he used to be!" I thought that was great, because right now I am very happy that anybody might regard me for currency in the present tense. I am in and of it, to be sure.

I know my best work is ahead of me. That's the only thing that gets me out of the decrepitude of my advanced age. Every day the hand is farther from the head! Just to play the things I played when I was a brunette, I want to tell you, it ain't for sissies! And I beat the shit of the piano!

Interview by Ross Bennett

Van Dyke Parks played London's Union Chapel on May 16.

Sunday 29 May 2011

Gil Scott-Heron RIP

Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron, who died on May 27 aged 62, was a composer, musician, poet and author whose writings and recordings provided a vivid, and often stinging, commentary on social injustice and the black American experience; his declamatory singing style, allied to the overtly political content of his work, made him widely recognised as one of the inspirational figures of rap music.

10:31AM BST 28 May 2011

Scott-Heron first came to attention with his 1970 recording The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, an attack on the mindless and anaesthetising effects of the mass media and a call to arms to the black community: “You will not be able to stay home, brother./You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out./You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,/Skip out for beer during commercials,/Because the revolution will not be televised.”

Written when Scott Heron was just 18, it first appeared in the form of a spoken-word recitation, his impassioned incantation accompanied only by congas and bongo drums, on his debut album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

The following year Scott-Heron recorded the song for a second time, this time with a full band, for his album Pieces of a Man, and as the B-side to the single Home Is Where The Hatred Is.

The song went on to be covered, sampled and referenced in innumerable recordings, the title entering the lexicon of contemporary phraseology. In 2010 it was named as one of the top 20 political songs by the New Statesman.

Scott-Heron’s music reflected something of the militancy and self-assertiveness of such theorists and polemicists as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. Over the course of some 20 albums he produced a series of sardonic and biting commentaries on ghetto life and racial injustice, including Whitey’s On The Moon, Home Is Where The Hatred Is, The Bottle (a lamentation about people squandering their lives on liquor, set to an irresistibly seductive Latin beat) and the anti-apartheid anthem Johannesburg. But anger was only colour in Scott-Heron’s music palette; songs such as Must Be Something and It’s Your World were moving affirmations of faith in the power of the human spirit.

A tall, rail-thin man with a wispy goatee beard and a countenance of prophetic gravity, Scott-Heron sang in a rough, declamatory voice that was once described as a mixture of “mahogany, sunshine and tears” and that always emphasised lyrical content over technique. The bass player Ron Carter, who played on Scott-Heron’s second album, Pieces of a Man, described it as “a voice like you would have for Shakespeare”.

His vocal style, and his political message, would be a major influence on such groups as Public Enemy and NWA, and would lead to his being described as “the godfather of rap”. It was a title that Scott-Heron himself always deplored: his music covered a far broader and more sophisticated emotional range than the crude rhetoric of so much rap music, which he dismissed on the ground that “you don’t really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing.” He preferred to describe himself as “a bluesologist”.

Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1 1949. He was named after his father, Gilbert Heron, a Jamaican who had settled in America, where his prowess at football (soccer) brought him to the attention of talent scouts from Scotland; in the early 1950s Gilbert snr played football professionally for Celtic and Third Lanark, earning the nickname “the Black Arrow”, before returning to Chicago. It was there that he met Gil’s mother, Bobbie, a librarian and an accomplished singer who had once performed with the New York Oratorial Society.

Scott-Heron would encapsulate his early years in a poem, Coming From A Broken Home: “Womenfolk raised me and I was full grown/before I knew I came from a broken home.” His parents separated when he was two, and he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother, Lillie Scott, in Jackson, Tennessee. Scott-Heron would credit his grandmother with being one of the primary influences on his life: “[She] raised me to not sit around and wait for people to guess what’s on your mind — I was gonna have to say it.”

Cultivating his interest in music and literature, she bought him a second-hand piano from a local funeral parlour and introduced him to the writings of the Harlem Renaissance novelist and poet Langston Hughes, who utilised the rhythms of jazz in his poetry and who became a major influence.

When Gil was 12 his grandmother died, and he moved to New York to be reunited with his mother, who brought up her son on her own. On the recommendation of his high school English teacher, Gil won a scholarship to a private school, the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, before going on to study at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where Langston Hughes had once been a student.

In his second year at university he was given leave of absence to write a novel, The Vulture (1970), a thriller about ghetto life, while working as a clerk at a dry cleaners. On graduation he published a second novel, The Nigger Factory (1971), about campus unrest, and a collection of poetry, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

By now Scott-Heron had begun performing his poetry in coffee houses and jazz clubs, where he was approached by the jazz producer Bob Thiele who, as head of the Impulse label, had recorded such artists as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as being the co-writer, with George David Weiss, of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.

Thiele signed Scott-Heron to his own Flying Dutchman label, and released Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, a live recording of one of Scott-Heron’s club performances. The follow-up Pieces of Man brought him together on record for the first time with Brian Jackson, a keyboard-player, flautist and composer whom he had met at Lincoln University, and who would become his principal collaborator on nine albums.

With Jackson, Scott-Heron refined an intoxicating hybrid of jazz, Latin and Afro idioms that established him in the vanguard of black American music in the 1970s. The success of a single version of The Bottle in 1974 led to his being signed to a major label, Arista. He enjoyed further chart success in 1976 with Johannesburg and, in 1978, with the anti-drug song Angel Dust: “Please, children would you listen, Just ain’t where it’s at. You won’t remember what you’re missin’, but down some dead end streets, there ain’t no turnin’ back.”

These lyrics were to prove ironic, for by the end of the 1980s Scott-Heron was himself beginning to be undermined by drugs use. Between 1970 and 1982 he made 13 albums, but it would be a further 11 years before the release of his 14th, Spirits; the album’s centrepiece was a gruelling three-part explication of the hells of drug addiction, The Other Side. While he continued to perform intermittently, Scott-Heron became a notoriously unreliable figure.

Monique de Latour, a New Zealander photographer who met Scott-Heron in 1995 and lived with him for several years, described how he would frequently vanish for days on end without explanation, often retreating to one of a number of flophouse hotels in Harlem.

In the hope of shocking Scott-Heron out of his addiction, de Latour took to photographing him when he was comatose on drugs and hanging the pictures on the walls; but he refused to look at them. “He didn’t like to look at himself at all,” she recalled. “He didn’t like to look in the mirror.”

In 2000 Scott-Heron was sentenced to 18 to 24 months of in-patient rehabilitation for possession of cocaine and two crack pipes, but given leave to complete a European tour. After failing even to turn up at a subsequent court hearing he was sentenced to between one and three years in prison. Released on parole, in 2003 he was again charged with possession of a controlled substance after cocaine he had hidden in the lining of his bag showed up on an airport x-ray. And in 2006 he was sentenced to two to four years in a New York State prison for violating a plea deal on a drug possession charge by leaving a rehabilitation centre.

In 2010 there was a resurgence of interest in his work when he returned with his first studio album in 16 years, I’m New Here. The record had come about after an English fan and record producer, Richard Russell, had written to Scott-Heron and then visited him in prison on Rikers Island in 2006.

The record put Scott-Heron into an abrasively contemporary musical setting, placing his gruff, time-worn spoken-word recitations — including a reworking of the Robert Johnson blues Me and the Devil — in a setting of dark, down-tempo beats, loops and samples.

Gil Scott-Heron was married to the actress Brenda Sykes, with whom he had a daughter.

The Horseman's Word by Roger Garfitt - review

The Horseman's Word by Roger Garfitt – review
An evocation of country life proves to be a lyrical and frightening memoir

John Burnside
The Guardian
Saturday 28 May 2011

On first acquaintance, we might be forgiven for reading The Horseman's Word as a lyrical evocation of a lost England, a poet's careful, often exquisite elegy for the landscapes that formed him. Those landscapes (coastal Norfolk, the semi-rural hinterlands of Surrey) are evoked with tenderness and care; the people, especially Garfitt's grandparents, are vividly drawn, and the attention to fine detail (the sensual feast of opening up a beach hut at the start of the season, for example) is close to Proustian. Yet this book is no idyll: hardship is recognised and given its due, while the clannishness and feudal nature of village life, familiar to anyone who has ever dwelt in the countryside, is mercilessly rendered: "One of the squires of Sedgeford, Sir Holkham Ingleby, wrote an affectionate little book called The Charm of a Village: but the charm rather depended on where you stood in the social scale. [His aunt] Ruth remembers another member of the squire's family calling at the house and asking, 'Is this Garfitt's cottage?' [Uncle] Frank answered her with the courtesy she expected, 'Yes, Ma'am,' but Ruth thought, 'Why can't she say Mr Garfitt? We have to show respect. Why can't she do the same for my father?'"

The casual harm done by the rural class system is not confined to disrespect, however: when a local schoolmaster makes a false accusation against Garfitt's uncles, the magistrates find themselves "in a dilemma: they should have dismissed the case but that would have made the schoolmaster look foolish. In the feudal society of the village as it was then, his position had to be preserved. They compromised by finding the boys guilty but giving them an absolute discharge." As a local gamekeeper points out, "gentlemen don't give a damn about our class of people. I've been with them so long I know just what they are."

In Surrey, however, Garfitt's father has risen to the position of lawyer, dedicating his spare time and most of his energy to the horse-breaking stables and riding school he has set up near Hersham, so that the family, especially Garfitt's mother, are keenly aware of belonging to a higher social stratum – and this has a very particular impact on young Roger's love life. Torn between intense, and rather peculiar religious impulses and an Augustinian attachment to the flesh, the teenager is attracted first to a stable girl, and then to an au pair who works for the family, but his class-conscious parents intervene at every turn, dismissing one girl and doing all they can to keep the other out of reach.

Not surprisingly, the young man grows up emotionally conflicted. The central part of the memoir, covering the author's teens and early 20s (coinciding, more or less, with the period when, according to Larkin, "sex began") is much taken up with romantic and sexual matters, as well as his emergence as a young poet in the Oxford of Peter Levi and John Wain, bringing in distinguished visitors such as Ted Hughes and WH Auden (who asked the dandified young Garfitt, when they were introduced, "How much a year do you spend on your hair?").

The description of Hughes is both funny and poignant: "Any student of animal behaviour would have been able to read our stance, the submissive, forward lean with which we asked our questions, and the distance we kept, holding to our little round tables while Ted Hughes leaned against the bar. He had just read to the University Poetry Society, his broad shoulders hunched over the book, his introductions terse to the point of impatience: "'The next poem is called "Otter". It's about . . . an otter.' The poems seemed to build like floodwater and break over the room, so that it came as something of a surprise when Craig Raine ventured, 'You don't actually read them very well, do you?' Hughes must have been surprised too but he didn't show it: 'Well, you get fed up with them towards the end.'" It's an exchange that strangely echoes the visit of the squire's kinswoman earlier in the book, but Hughes remains a rich and dignified presence, whose humility and sense of equality leaves Garfitt with the sense that "there might be some sense to us after all, some relationship between the elemental music we had just heard and our rushes of words to the head."

The Horseman's Word is full of such precise and tender portraits, both of incidental characters – the visiting poet, the chance encounter on the road, the latest in a series of beautiful, intriguing girls – and the author's family and closest friends. Garfitt's eye for the telling details of character, and his economy in relating them, evidence great skill and fine judgment, but it is in the second half of the book, when he recounts his descent into madness, that the full range of his narrative gifts emerges.

Madness is difficult to write, particularly from the inside, and the kind of madness from which the young Garfitt suffers – a walking-wounded, more or less functioning insanity that allows the sufferer to wander haphazardly from one terrifying situation to the next – is both the most dangerous to the sufferer and the hardest to convey. Yet Garfitt relates it so vividly that the reader enters into the madman's mind and sees the world from his point of view: the hallucinations, the illusions, the paranoid calculations, all are set out in the clearest prose.

This section of the book, one of the finest first-hand accounts of madness I have read, is a superb achievement; just as Garfitt is careful to sidestep the merely pastoral in his evocation of the English countryside, he scrupulously avoids the temptations attendant on writing about madness, so that, when we come to the point where the patient is reduced to the most basic level of existence, we go with him to his padded cell, to be broken, and to be healed.

John Burnside's A Summer of Drowning is published by Jonathan Cape.

Friday 27 May 2011

Jeff Bridges - "Sometimes there's a man..."

Jeff Bridges: 'He's a real chameleon'
From stoner to alien to all-American hero, Jeff Bridges immerses himself in every role. Here, his friends, co-stars and directors uncover the man behind the movies

Ryan Gilbey
Thursday 26 May 2011 21.30

Loyd Catlett
Stand-in, stunt double, assistant and/or actor in all Bridges's films since The Last Picture Show (1971)

I met Jeff on The Last Picture Show, which I had a small part in, and we hit it off really well during the rehearsal period and started hanging out together. He was trying to polish his southern accent for the film, so he was taking his cue from mine. I stayed in Los Angeles after we finished looping, and started pursuing an acting career. One day, while talking with Jeff on the phone, I mentioned that there weren't any parts coming my way; he suggested, since he was going to Europe to start a film, perhaps he could help if I was interested in being a stand-in for him. I didn't know at that time that it would turn out the way it did for the next 41 years. It just worked: the friendship, the companionship. I've seen his process develop and grow with each film we've done. In the early years, his approach seemed to be more about hoping to discover his character through the filming process, sort of like acting by prayer. Now Jeff pays far more attention to the details that build each character – the research, studying people who live in the part of the country or world his character would be from, the way they speak, their hairstyles and expressions. Jeff starts with the script. Then he reads and researches everything he can find that supports life in that region and during the scripted time frame. Once the reservoir of information is in place, next comes the look.

Mary Zophres

Costume designer: The Big Lebowski (1998), True Grit (2010)

Jeff is one of the most fun actors I've ever dressed. He's the definition of a character actor. Not all actors are helped by their costume, and he's an example of someone who is. Because the costume fitting happens so early on in the process, we're sort of the first information he gets about the character. He was doing press for Crazy Heart while he was preparing for True Grit, but I had done all this research, so I had all this information that I was sharing with him about the historical period. He took it in like a sponge. He loves the costume fitting because it helps put him in that era. On the fittings for both True Grit and The Big Lebowski, there was a distinct moment where his posture changed and he went into character right before my eyes. That is such a thrill for a costume designer – it's why I do movies, to contribute to the story by helping an actor find his character.

Roger Deakins

Cinematographer: The Big Lebowski, True Grit

It was the funniest and most unexpected thing seeing Jeff in costume for the first time on Lebowski. I'd seen him mostly as a serious actor, things like The Last Picture Show and The Fabulous Baker Boys, so to suddenly see him on set as this dishevelled, ageing ex-hippy was very funny, and quite a transformation. Jeff is so much of the film really. We held the focus on him a lot because there's a subtlety to his comedy that takes a while to hit you. It's not laugh-out-loud straight away; you've gotta keep your eye on him, the way he develops the character, and that's where the comedy comes from. You've gotta watch him pour his White Russian and spill it everywhere.

Martin Bell

Director: American Heart (1992)

Watching Jeff in American Heart, you would not know he grew up in the rarefied world of a Hollywood family. His feeling for his character, Jack, a damaged father lacking the most basic ability to look after himself, is truly awesome. His performance is subtle, without noise and show; he makes it seem effortless. The film was really his passion. After my documentary Streetwise was nominated for an Academy Award, Warner Brothers asked the writer Peter Silverman and I to fictionalise it for the screen. We had worked on the screenplay for maybe a year when we heard that Jeff was developing a similar story based in New Orleans. Warner Brothers were cooling on the story when Jeff discovered we had a screenplay, which he read and liked. He came with a lot of ideas; the look – that ponytail, the tattoos, the sideburns – was all Jeff. He put himself into physical shape for the film. He even asked me to work out with him because it was boring doing it on his own. I said: "You gotta be kidding!" He just spent so much time over every detail. After each take, he likes to watch playback to make sure he's got what he wants, even if everyone is giving him the thumbs up. He wants to make absolutely sure he's nailed it. If you have any suggestions he will take them in. More often than not you're just looking at a beautiful performance. He constantly surprises you.

Roger Deakins

Joel and Ethan [Coen] had never used playback so they were a bit sceptical about how much time it would take on Lebowski. But Jeff was funny; as soon as they called "Cut", he'd rush over to the playback guy and watch the take . In the time it took us to put the board on for the next shot, he'd run back and be in position for the next shot. He did it on True Grit, too. I guess it's to see how he's coming across: is the performance that he's doing and feeling coming over on camera?

Iain Softley

Director: K-Pax (2001)

Jeff had two phrases which I remember him saying after a take: "How was the 'tood?", meaning attitude, and "Any tweaks, Captain?" He wasn't in the cast when the film was first being set up; it was going to be Will Smith as Prot, the man who's either mentally ill or from another planet, and Kevin Spacey as his psychiatrist, but that didn't work out for various reasons, and then the studio decided Kevin should be Prot. Jeff was top of my list to be the psychiatrist. Prot is the eye-catching role but I think Jeff saw the doctor was a great part because he was questing and searching in ways that I didn't realise at first were very similar to Jeff.

I thought he would be very instinctive as an actor, not necessarily prepared – more freeform, which is the impression you get from something like The Big Lebowski. In fact, he's incredibly studious. The first meeting I had with him, he had a folder where every page was annotated and colour-coded. He was very conscientious about researching the hypnosis techniques, which are a big part of the film. He asked me once if he could try them out on me in his trailer, not trying to put me under, but just to get into mindset. I had to stop him. I said: "I've got to go on set and shoot in five minutes and I can feel I'm slipping away!" It was an interesting dynamic on set because Kevin is a virtuoso actor, almost like a musician playing it by ear. They were wonderful together; sometimes in rehearsals they'd swap roles as a bit of fun, as an exercise.

Martin Bell

I was really impressed with how generous Jeff was with everyone on set. There were so many kids in American Heart and he had time for them all, gave them all lots of attention and advice. And he was very supportive of Eddie [Furlong], who had only done one other film, Terminator 2, at that point. There was one very emotional scene that Eddie was having trouble with, and Jeff took him aside and gave him some guidance on it, suggested that maybe he shouldn't use his arms so much, and Eddie understood that and did the scene beautifully.

Loyd Catlett

We've acted together a lot over the years and Jeff's really a soothing presence to share a scene with. He can have a very calming effect on his fellow actors. He has always had great insights to share with me about the acting process – to be real and not to push it.

Mary Zophres

Jeff makes acting look like no big deal, but he can only pull that off because he puts in so much preparation. On Lebowski, he had all these notes all over the script – from front to back, in the margins, everywhere. He thinks a lot about everything but at the same time he's very loose. I'm still amazed by his performance in True Grit: so much of what an actor communicates is in the eyes, and yet he brought all that nuance while wearing an eye patch. He's been good in everything he's been in. You look at all the characters he's played and you can never see the acting. Look at Starman: I love him in that. I'd never seen anybody play an alien like that before.

Karen Allen

Actor: Starman (1984).

John Carpenter [the director] said Jeff came into the meeting with the character fully formed. He'd based it on watching birds and babies. Jeff told me he'd looked at how babies take in the world, then watched the way birds have these rather exacting and precise movements, and combined the two. I first met Jeff when we arrived at the studio to start rehearsals. We both pulled into the parking lot at the same time, got out of our cars and the moment he saw me he threw his arms wide open and hugged me. It was a great way to begin. The film is really a road movie, so we spent most of the time in cars travelling from one part of the country to another. It makes all the difference in the world if you have a partner who's enjoying it as much as Jeff was. He made the shoot so much fun. We did multiple creative things. He set up a little recording studio in his trailer and we would go in and work on songs together, singing harmonies all the time. He also had his Widelux camera, and he took such fantastic pictures. He does that all the time now, but Starman was the first time he'd documented a shoot.

Loyd Catlett

We have several things we do on set to pass the time. We play music together, or we find a book and both take turns reading a chapter aloud to each other. On True Grit, we read aloud the last two volumes that Larry McMurtry had written continuing the story of The Last Picture Show.

Glenn Close

Actor: Jagged Edge (1985).

Jeff was a lot of fun to have around. He's a fabulous musician so he always had a guitar with him on set. He's a very serious actor, but he had a great sense of humour and he knew how to use that because some of the scenes were very intense. It could actually be a very funny set at times. We did this thing for Ann Roth, the great costume designer, where we swapped costumes. Jeff put on one of my dresses that I wore in the movie, and I put on one of his suits with a tie, and we posed for a photograph and presented it to Ann.

Iain Softley

Jeff's standing now, because of Crazy Heart and True Grit, is much higher than it was when we made K-Pax. There was a sense in Hollywood that a lot of the studios underestimated the following he had with the public, whereas K-Pax was the first thing Kevin had shot after winning his Oscar for American Beauty, so his profile was very high. There was just this sense that Jeff had been overlooked by the industry, though these things are cyclical. At one stage, Jeff had been offered the part that eventually went to Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Now, if he'd taken that role then he'd have been a megastar, but that doesn't really have anything to do with good or bad acting. It's arbitrary. At that time, Jeff was slightly bemused whenever the word "undervalued" came up in relation to him. His response was that he'd always been able to do the movies he wanted to do, so where was the problem?

Glenn Close

Actors are players: we play. Laurence Olivier said: "Scratch an actor and you'll find an actor." Richard Eyre said: "Scratch an actor and you'll find a child." That ability to play and be completely open and to live in your imagination, that's not childish but childlike, and I always loved that quality in Jeff. He's the kind of actor you can trust instinctively; he makes you feel you can do anything. I feel he was taken for granted for a long time. Then his work, the choices he makes, started adding up in a way that became undeniable, and impossible to ignore.

Martin Bell

I never understood why it took so long for Jeff to get an Oscar; he should have got one so much earlier. He'd already given so many wonderful performances, and he was really being overlooked by a lotta people. I don't know why. Maybe it's because he makes it look so easy, or because he has such range. He's a real chameleon.

Iain Softley

What I like about his style is this naturalism he has, which induces a lot of empathy in the audience. As long as people are watching films they'll be watching The Big Lebowski; it's an absolute gem of an interpretation. There's generally this wisdom in Jeff – not an intellectual wisdom at all, but a sense in which he's this everyman figure we can all relate to. And yet he's complex at the same time. There's this strange mix of being accessible and complex: you're drawn in every time. That's why he's such an enduring presence, and why he'll make many, many more films. He takes risks too, like the films he did with Terry Gilliam: The Fisher King and Tideland. He made one that I particularly love with Peter Weir called Fearless, and that's the right word for him.

Five decades of greatness
Xan Brooks picks the performances that define Bridge's career

Fat City (1972)

John Huston's hardscrabble boxing saga (above) is one of the great lost classics of 70s cinema, evocatively played out in the last-chance saloons of Stockton, California. Fresh from his success in The Last Picture Show, Jeff Bridges is wonderfully loose and limber as Ernie Munger, the teenage contender who gets adopted by a fading old pugilist. Munger, we realise, is Stockton's idea of youthful promise: gauche, innocent, and pointed towards disaster.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

Preston Tucker was an idealistic entrepreneur who designed the perfect car and found himself forced off the road by his rivals in the auto industry. Francis Coppola's paean to the American pioneer adrift in the corporate modern age, is topped off by a performance of terrific, puppy‑dog exuberance by the 39-year-old Bridges. "It's the idea and the dream that counts," Tucker insists, in what could be read as a riposte to the "greed is good" motto of Wall Street, released the year before.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Arguably Bridges's best-loved screen performance came courtesy of a Coen brothers' comedy that initially dozed at the box office only to grow in stature as the years progressed. Bridges is Jeff "the Dude" Lebowski, a stoner Baloo the bear, shuffling from bar to mansion to bowling alley in the course of a freewheeling film-noir plot-line. It is, the actor admits, his own favourite of all his films.

Crazy Heart (2009)

It was fifth-time lucky for Bridges, who finally won the best actor Oscar for his turn as Bad Blake, an alcoholic country singer who plays his shows in fleapit bars and lays his hat in cheap motels. In other hands, Scott Cooper's redemption drama could have turned gloopy and sentimental. Bridges's perfectly judged performance ensured it stayed tough, fresh and earthy.

True Grit (2010)

Bridges reunited with the Coens for his great performance of the decade so far. True Grit (left) bypasses the antique John Wayne western to reconnect with the source novel by Charles Portis, installing newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as the pint-sized angel of vengeance on the trail of her father's killer. Bridges co-stars as Rooster Cogburn, the lumbering, trigger-happy cyclops who falls to his knees in the closing reel. "I am grown old," he gasps; a battle-scarred warrior preparing to bow out to the next generation.

Tonight's setlist

At the Big Jug, Durham; not The Habit; not the Duke; not the Fulford Arms; the BIG JUG: -

Love Song

Is It Only The Moonlight?
Things We Said Today

Some great 'turns' on the bill: Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Reed, Johnny Cash etc. If I Could Read Your Mind, Baby What You Want Me To Do, Folsom Prison Blues & The Man Comes Around.

Thursday 26 May 2011


It's the Trent House tomorrow. Da is bringing along his petition.

Last night's setlist

I'm Just A Loser
Is It Only The Moonlight?
Love Letters In The Sand
After The Goldrush
Isn't It A Pity
Up On Cripple Creek
Unknown Legend

A groovy night. Chris Helme delivered a blistering set with a double bass player. Some great picking from Mark Wynne inc. Too Much Monkey Business and Baby Please Don't Go. Excellent stuff.

Wednesday 25 May 2011


Da's behaviour continues to be a cause for concern. Following on from his outspoken support for the human rights of Jose Reveron, the Bulgarian accused of beheading a British pensioner in Tenerife, comes his arrest in a Newcastle City Centre department store. After attempting to try on a pair of red underwear in the John Lewis outlet, a member of staff pointed to the sign above. Infuriated Da immediately went to the ladies bra section, selected 26 garments, returned to the changing rooms and refused to leave for the next seven hours. Dragged away by armed officers he said: "This is a stitch up."

Continuing Contentiously in the same vein...

Twenty favourite Bob Dylan songs
From acknowledged masterpieces to eccentric picks – as chosen by a fan who first saw Dylan live in 1965

Posted by
Richard Williams
Friday 20 May 2011

Obviously Bob Dylan isn't going to spend his 70th birthday listening to his own recordings. So I'll do it for him, while rejoicing that he is still around and willing to share the gift that opened up vistas of emotion not just for those of us lucky enough to have bought a ticket to the whole show, but for subsequent generations who find themselves responding to his shrewd insight, his sense of humour, his deep and broad love of music, and his sheer humanity.

So here's my birthday playlist: not a "best of" in any sense, even though it includes a couple of acknowledged masterpieces, but an occasionally eccentric selection of personal favourites that starts in a listening booth in a basement record shop, one summer afternoon between the Great Train Robbery and the assassination of JFK.

Let us know your own favourite Dylan song in the comments below, and we'll pull together a second playlist of 70 tracks that you've picked to celebrate Bob's birthday next Tuesday

From The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, 1963

One man's plagiarism is another man's folk process. Dylan lifts themelody of the traditional Lord Franklin, and some of its lyric tropes, to create a poignant and astonishingly mature reflection on the evanescence of youth, sketched with a few deft brush strokes. If you were 16 at the time, he strengthened the resolve to enjoy your precious time, and deepened your appreciation of it after it had gone.

From Victoria Spivey's Three Kings and a Queen, 1962

One of the last of the great Mississippi blues singer-guitarists, Big Joe Williams was close to his 60th birthday when the 21-year-old Dylan played harmonica and sang harmony on this version of a Mississippi Sheiks song. This Dylan would resurface 30 years later on Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, two acoustic solo albums with which he reset his compass in the early-90s.

From Live at the Gaslight, 1962

A sober rendering of the celebrated story of star-crossed lovers, delivered to a Greenwich Village audience when Dylan was parted from Suze Rotolo. The girl on the Freewheelin' cover was spending several months studying art in Italy, and it's not fanciful to imagine that you can hear how much he was missing her as he sings of the entwining of the red rose and the briar. A beautifully tender performance, in any case.

From The Times They Are A-Changin', 1964

Back in the days of the folk revival it was perfectly normal for performers to sing songs in the voice of the opposite gender. Dylan goes further with this one, creating the persona of a young wife and mother in the Masabi iron range, watching her world contract and shrivel as the mining industry collapses and her husband leaves one morning without a word. This is the country Dylan grew up in, which may have helped him empathise with his subject, but the degree of identification is uncanny. "The sad silent song made the hour twice as long," is one of his most perfectly constructed and enduringly resonant lines.


From Bringing It All Back Home, 1965

Who is to say that this is not the finest of all his songs, the one in which he found the precise balance between social observation and poetry, and in which his immersion in traditional music produced his voice at its purest? Myself, I remember the chill of hearing those harmonica stabs for the first time at Sheffield's City Hall in the spring of 1965.


From Blonde on Blonde, 1966

Recorded at four in the morning after a session that had started 10 hours earlier, and in which the musicians had done little but play cards while Dylan worked on the lyric, this draws its sepulchral power not just from the glinting ambiguities of his magnificent wordplay but from an arrangement that ebbs and flows like a slow tide. Not having been given a clue as to the length of the song, the musicians surged to a climax at the end of every chorus, only to find the singer pulling them into yet another verse. Eleven minutes and 21 seconds long, the one and only take was given its own special setting, isolated on the fourth side of a double album. It presented itself as a masterpiece, and it was.


From The Bootleg Series Vos 1-3, 1967

The stately Basement Tapes plea for redemption, featuring Robbie Robertson's steely Telecaster, Garth Hudson's eerie organ, Richard Manuel's aching falsetto harmony, and Dylan's centuries-old lead.


From The Dylan Cash Session (bootleg), 1969

Johnny Cash's most haunting song is performed as a duet, with Dylan providing improvised harmony and going solo on the bridge in what sounds like some only tenuously related key. To be heard in conjunction with Train of Love, Dylan's urgent and heartfelt contribution to Kindred Spirits, a Cash tribute album, a few years ago.


Isle of Wight Festival (bootleg), 1969

He took the stage many hours late, with the Band, wearing a white suit, and delivered a underwhelming hour-long set to an audience whose expectations would have been impossible to meet. But with its thoughtful and precise phrasing, this version of a traditional ballad, part of a four-song solo acoustic interlude, provides another confirmation of how beautifully he could/can sing.


B-side of Watching the River Flow, 1970

Dylan reflects his lifelong attraction to the Tex-Mex borderlands in this spare, relaxed version of a fine ballad, accompanied by his own piano and Leon Russell's bass guitar. There's also a cherishable tango-style arrangement for full band and cooing chorus on the universally reviled album called simply Dylan, thrown together by Columbia Records after his temporary defection in 1973.


From Planet Waves, 1974

With majestic accompaniment from the Band, he takes an early stab at the comfortless, darkness-falls mood that would be explored in detail almost a quarter of a century later in Time Out of Mind, his self-examination in late middle age.


From Blood on the Tracks, 1975
All the way from Don't Think Twice, It's All Right to Sugar Baby, Dylan has been telling us that love is not a simple thing. For all its relative brevity, its ebullient attack and its jaunty harmonica, this is perhaps the most complex and multi-faceted of all his love songs, its fond and vivid reflections shot through with the deeper hues of realism. If I had to keep just one, this might be it.


from The Genuine Bootleg Series (bootleg), 1984

Sam Shepard helped him write this epic dislocated narrative ballad, later revised, retitled Brownsville Girl and released on Knocked Out Loaded. This version doesn't have the heart-piercing line – sung in a single breath – "Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content", but nor does it have the overblown production, marked by a steroid backbeat and an instrusive female chorus.


From Dylan and the Dead, 1987

I get into trouble with one prominent Dylan scholar whenever I mention this track, taken from a concert in Eugene, Oregon during a tour described by another professional Dylanologist as "one of Dylan's all-time worst career decisions". Dylan himself later wrote, in Chronicles Vol 1, that the tour had shown him a new and more stimulating angle from which to approach his music. Technically speaking, this version of Queen Jane is certainly a mess. But it's also the sound of a bunch of people, bonded by ties of affection and respect, hauling themselves out of the sludge to create something of shape and proportion and darkly luminous beauty. I can listen to it endlessly. The rest of the album is, indeed, lamentable.


From Down in the Groove, 1988
The most despised Dylan album of all contains this atmospheric arrangement of a song by the gospel composer Albert Brumley, taken from the Stanley Brothers' repertoire (also the source of A Man of Constant Sorrow, from his debut album). Just a lightly strummed guitar, Larry Klein's zooming bass, and a spectral voioce intoning a haunted lyric.


Bonus track on Japanese Not Dark Yet EP, 1998

When people say that Dylan doesn't respect his old songs, play them this. No, he doesn't follow the old tune. He's paid you, the listener, the compliment of devising an excellent set of variations, allowing him to re-engage with the lyric rather than merely trot out a classic. And you've got to love his studious attempt to fulfill a lifelong ambition to play lead guitar.


From Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol 8, 2008

Written for the soundtrack of Gods and Generals, a Civil War TV series, this finely crafted extended ballad finds Dylan inhabiting the mind of dying soldier. The crepuscular mood is brilliantly evoked by his band, subtly invigorating each verse in a way that evokes the job the Nashville cats did on Sad-Eyed Lady. A major work, it deserved a better fate than to be tucked away on a rare-and-unreleased anthology. But then so did Blind Willie McTell.


From Love and Theft, 2001
From a bayou mist of bell-like guitars and murky keyboards emerges a voice of wry wisdom. "Every moment of existence feels like some dirty trick," he sings. "Happiness comes suddenly and leaves just as quick." So this is how it ends. But, somehow, love survives.


From Together Through Life, 2009

At the end of an album in which he successfully channeled the Muddy Waters Blues Band of the late-50s, Dylan stands back and produces this gently barbed summary of our times: a sardonic indictment of complacency and greed. He didn't change the world, after all. But then he never really thought he could.