Sunday 30 September 2012

Gordon Lightfoot Interview

Folk hero Gordon Lightfoot enjoying his artistic freedom

13 September 2012

This is the life of a 73-year-old folk music icon in the 21st century:

He doesn't have a recording contract and doesn't want one; it would just drag him down.

He tours regularly, bringing his remarkable body of work that spans decades to adoring audiences.

And his rehearsals involve digging around in his catalog of material, doing artistic archeology to find deep cuts and obscurities that deserve a full-band live treatment.

Gordon Lightfoot isn't complaining. With songs such as "Sundown," "Early Morning Rain," "If You Could Read My Mind," and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" to stand on, he's far more interested in touring the world, exploring his music in front of audiences, and generally enjoying himself.

Slogging away in a studio is of no interest.

In a telephone interview from his Toronto home the day before beginning rehearsals for the tour that brings him to Toledo's Stranahan Theater on Tuesday night, Lightfoot reminisced about the early '60s and playing in folk clubs.

"I liked playing live as much then as I do now and I really love it right now because I don't have any recording obligations at all," he said, noting that he was under contract for 30-plus years until about 2000. "I've got a free shot right now and we're looking for hidden gold in the repertoire."

The native of Canada was at the forefront of the folk music movement that included Ian and Sylvia, Peter Paul and Mary, and even Bob Dylan (who is a big fan of Lightfoot and has long complimented his music.) Lightfoot began playing at a young age, studied music theory, and from his teen years on worked in the music industry, both behind the scenes and as a performer.

He moved to England in 1963 and hosted a television show, all the while writing songs that didn't please him. Finally he penned "Early Morning Rain," which Lightfoot calls his "first good song" and which was later covered by Elvis Presley. Suddenly he had elevated his work to a new level.

"You cross over that threshold. I'd probably written 25 to 30 songs up to that point and I wouldn't have given you a nickel for any one of them. In fact, I threw most of them out," he said.

At that point he started a run in which he placed numerous songs in the Canadian top 40 and scored some U.S. hits when his work was covered by other artists such as Marty Robbins, Judy Collins, Richie Havens, and the Kingston Trio.

Beginning in 1966 he began cranking out albums, recording an average of one a year until about 1983 when he began to slow down. Over his career, Lightfoot has released 21 discs.

"Sundown" topped the U.S. charts in 1974 and the song -- with its loping bass line and intoxicating melody -- is instantly recognizable to anyone who listened to the radio in the early '70s.

"It's probably the beat and the message and it's kind of dark and mysterious, you know?" Lightfoot said of the song. "It has ghosts walking through it."

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" was released in 1976 and the classic tale of the ship that sank the year before in Lake Superior reached No. 2 on the U.S. charts. To this day, the songwriter will alter the lyrics to account for new information that emerges about the storied disaster. He said in Wisconsin there is a committee of widows of sailors on the ship with whom he consults to try and ensure that it is accurate.

Lightfoot, who has suffered a few serious health scares over the years, is perhaps best known for his finely wrought love songs and music that can be highly personal and that personifies the notion of a "sensitive singer/songwriter."

He said there are times when he is performing that the stories behind the songs can become almost overwhelming, but that only increases the passion of his delivery.

"It becomes more intense sometimes. When I sing 'If You Could Read My Mind' I think about my first wife because she was such a wonderful person. And you know you think about that and [the fact that] the song was written right at about the time the marriage broke up."

Lightfoot said he is planning to work lesser-known material into his shows to challenge the musicians and "take a whack at" songs that perhaps didn't get enough attention the first time around. Hard core fans will recognize some of the titles -- "Cold on the Shoulder," "Drifters," "Wild Strawberries," "Go-Go Round," "Fading Away," "Drink Your Glasses Empty," and "Race Among the Ruins" -- and some may turn up Tuesday night if he and the band are comfortable with them.

Saturday 29 September 2012

David Bowie at the V & A - again...

David Bowie retrospective at the V&A announced
Museum has chosen around 300 items from Bowie's vast private archive in New York for a major retrospective next spring

Mark Brown
Tuesday 4 September 2012

It was just over 40 years ago that he arguably changed the world: a beautiful, sexually ambiguous young man with a 26in waist, flame orange hair, pale makeup, a silk jumpsuit and red patent leather boots performing Starman on Top of the Pops and looking like nothing else that had gone before.

"It was a pivotal performance that changed pop history and turned David Bowie into a star," said the V&A's Victoria Broackes. "We could do an exhibition just on the number of people who saw that performance and said it changed their lives."

The V&A is going for the bigger picture though and has announced details of the first museum retrospective for a man who is one of the most influential performers of modern times.

The museum has been allowed into Bowie's vast private archive in New York and given unprecedented access to some 60,000 items – costumes, photographs, designs, instruments, films – from which it has chosen around 300 for the show next spring.

The tiny Starman costume, used for the performance on 6 July 1972 of the first single from his Ziggy Stardust album – "I think he was living on a diet of cocaine, milk and red peppers," said Broackes, the show's co-curator – will be a highlight, as it should be.

For the time it was an extraordinary performance, not least the way Bowie – who had told Melody Maker he was bisexual – effortlessly draped his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson.

"It was the manner of presentation, the way he pointed down the camera and was saying to people 'I look different, you can be different, you can be whoever you want to be,'" said Broackes. "Yes people were wearing pretty wacky things but Bowie was getting through to people in a different sort of way and allowing them to be individuals."

The novelist Jake Arnott has written of his 11-year-old self playing at being Bowie and Ronson in his garden with his friend Pete. Ian McCulloch, of Echo and the Bunnymen, remembered it this way: "All my other mates at school would say 'Did you see that bloke on Top Of The Pops?' He's a right faggot, him!' And I remember thinking 'You pillocks' … It made me feel cooler."

The V&A show will be an exploration and celebration of Bowie's creative spirit and it will make big claims. "Bowie has played a crucial role in shaping modern society due to his focus on personal self-expression that we in the west, at least, now take as a right," said the exhibition's other curator Geoffrey Marsh.

"Bowie may not have set out to do this … but help change the world he did and the ripples of those changes continue to move outwards around the globe today."

The V&A stressed it was the museum's show. The famously controlling Bowie has no say in it. A recent story in the Observer suggested he would part curate the exhibition prompting a rare response on his Facebook page.

Bowie, who lives almost reclusively in Manhattan with his wife Iman and daughter Lexi, 12, wrote: "I am not a co-curator and did not participate in any decisions relating to the exhibition." He added: "A close friend of mine tells me that I'm neither 'devastated', 'heartbroken' nor 'uncontrollably furious' by this news item."
No one from the V&A has sat down face to face with Bowie and, given he does not fly, it would be a surprise to everyone if he even made it along.

"I'm sorry to say I've never met him," said Broackes. "Of course I'd love to and I really hope he likes it but in a way, because the V&A always takes editorial control of what it produces, it is better that we haven't met him."

Marsh said there were piles of books on Bowie – "I'm sure there will be many more university doctorates" – but this is the first significant exhibition and he promised it would be "groundbreaking" and hopefully achieve the almost impossible task of appealing to both diehard fans and an audience too young to really know how much of an influence Bowie was and still is.

That present tense is important and the V&A has called its show – which has taken two and a half years to plan – '"David Bowie is.

"It underpins a key tenet of the exhibition," said Broackes. "David Bowie's impact today."

It will examine what has influenced him – German expressionism, music hall, Theatre of Cruelty, French chanson, surrealism, Brechtian theatre, avant-garde mime, musicals and Japanese kabuki to name a few – and the countless artists he in turn has influenced.

The show will include costumes such as the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover and the outrageous striped bodysuit Kansai Yamamoto designed for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour; classic photographs by Brian Duffy and Terry O'Neill; and excerpts from videos and films including The Man Who Fell to Earth and Labyrinth.

The V&A has held exhibitions about The Supremes, Kylie Minogue and Annie Lennox. There may be some who sniff at the V&A staging a show on Bowie, but it points out it is the museum for performance and theatre. Broackes added: "I don't feel there is an argument unless you think museums should be filled with things from the past. This museum has never been like that or about that."

Tickets are now on sale for David Bowie is at the V&A from 23 March-28 July 2013

Friday 28 September 2012

Herbert Lom RIP

Herbert Lom obituary
Czech-born actor best known as Inspector Clouseau's crazed boss in the Pink Panther fiilms

Ronald Bergen
Thursday 27 September 2012 

Herbert Lom, who has died aged 95, spent more than 50 years in dramatic roles, playing mostly smooth villains, but he was best known for his portrayal of Charles Dreyfus, the hysterically twitching boss of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) in the series of slapstick Pink Panther comedies. "Give me 10 men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world," blurts out the bewildered Dreyfus in A Shot in the Dark (1964).

Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru was born into an impoverished aristocratic family in Prague. He studied philosophy at Prague University, where he organised student theatre. In 1939, on the eve of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, he arrived in Britain with his Jewish girlfriend, Didi, but she was sent back at Dover because she did not have the correct papers. Her subsequent death in a concentration camp haunted him all his life.

Because of his linguistic abilities, Lom worked for the BBC European Service during the second world war, while building an acting career in British films with his newly shortened name. He had already appeared in small parts in two Czech films. In his first British film, Carol Reed's The Young Mr Pitt (1941), he played Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he resembled. It was the first of his three incarnations of, in Lom's words, the "much-maligned gentleman". The others were in War and Peace (1956) – while on location in Italy, hundreds of members of the Italian army, playing extras in the battle scenes, queued up to shake Lom's hand – and in William Douglas-Home's play Betzi, in a West End production in 1975.

With his penetrating brown eyes, saturnine looks and foreign accent, Lom was typecast as psychiatrists or sinister crooks. In The Seventh Veil (1945), he used his rich, deep voice to guide a concert pianist, Ann Todd, through her past with the aid of drugs and hypnosis. Almost two decades later, Lom had a similar role in the TV series The Human Jungle (1963-64) as a specialist in emotional distress who listens to his patients' problems while being unable to cope with his teenage daughter. "A boring part," Lom admitted. "All I had to do was sit behind a desk saying, 'And vot happened next?', and the terribly interesting patient got all the good bits."

Lom was more active as a heavy, his lightly flavoured Czech accent serving for French, Spanish, Arab, Greek or Turk. In Jules Dassin's Night and the City (1950), he played Kristo, a Greek racketeer who orders the murder of a petty crook, Richard Widmark. He was a devious pirate chieftain in Spartacus (1960) and Captain Nemo in Mysterious Island (1961), and took the title role in the Hammer production The Phantom of the Opera (1962). He stole the limelight in many a film from the nominal stars: playing a flamboyant Polish officer posing as a foreign agent in Rough Shoot (1953); a French count who steals the eponymous jewel in Star of India (1954), and Ahmad Shahbandar, the richest man in the world, in Gambit (1966). In these three films he ran rings around, respectively, Joel McCrea, Cornel Wilde and Michael Caine.

Lom failed to get satisfaction from such roles and never had the chance to realise his full potential on screen, but he nevertheless scowled effectively all the way to the bank. "When you are tempted to say no, they offer you so much money it would be irresponsible to one's family, to one's children, to refuse." In 1948 he married Dina, with whom he had two sons. They lived in London, the Canary Islands and the French Riviera. The couple divorced in 1971. Lom subsequently married and divorced twice more and had a daughter with the potter Brigitte Appleby.

Alexander Mackendrick's The Ladykillers (1955) was one of the few films that Lom looked upon with affection. As the most menacing of the gang trying to bump off an old lady, he ends up falling backwards off a railway bridge, landing in a passing goods wagon. The reason Lom wore a hat throughout the film was because his head had been shaved for his role in the musical The King and I at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Although not as singular a figure as Yul Brynner as the Siamese king, Lom proved to be just as imposing.

Lom, who worked with Sellers in The Ladykillers, was delighted to be cast as Clouseau's superior in A Shot in the Dark, Blake Edwards's follow-up to The Pink Panther. "I owe Blake the fact that I've been doing comedy," Lom remarked. "When he called me for the first time, he said, 'You've been the heavy so often, but I think you're a funny man.'"

In The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), Lom ends up in a straitjacket, writing "Kill Clouseau" on the walls of his padded cell with his toes. In The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), he escapes from the asylum and becomes a master criminal. Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) has him driven crazy again. Lom would twitch more frenetically as the films became progressively less funny.

It was then back to heavy duty as the devious Dr Hartz in the superfluous 1979 remake of The Lady Vanishes and he was Christopher Walken's therapist in David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone (1983), trying to help his patient, who has come out of a coma, to cope with being able to see the future. Lom then played a corrupt South American dictator in Whoops Apocalypse (1988), and a Vatican mafioso in The Pope Must Die (1991). His last appearance was on television as a suspicious French professor in an adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage (2004), with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple.

Lom, a delightful raconteur, music lover and amateur painter, who had a fine collection of 20th-century masterpieces, also wrote two entertaining and scholarly books: Dr Guillotine (1993), a novel about the inventor of a "humane" form of execution, and Enter a Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe (1978). "When I'm writing, there's nobody watching me," he explained. "It's a terrible thing to be watched, either by the audience or by the camera." It was a curious admission from an actor seldom away from the screen.

He is survived by his children.
• Herbert Lom (Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru), actor, born 11 September 1917; died 27 September 2012

Thursday 27 September 2012

Robert Hughes and Clive James discuss the Beats

  • From the archive: Enquiry Into The Beats - Robert Hughes and Clive James (1959)

last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

(with Ron)
Wild Horses
Sea Of Heartbreak
Crying In The Rain
You Got It

Things We Said Today
I Don't Want To Talk About It
There Stands The Glass

A very entertaining evening with an amazing array of performers. Followed by a trip to Bar 1331 and far too much of the foaming stuff - how did I post this???

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Andy Williams RIP

Andy Williams obituary
Popular crooner who sold more than 100m albums in a career that spanned eight decades

Dave Laing
Wednesday 29 September 2012

Through the popularity of his television show and his mellifluous tenor voice, Andy Williams, who has died aged 84 after suffering from bladder cancer, was one of the best-loved figures in American popular culture. In a career that spanned eight decades, he sold more than 100m albums. Ronald Reagan described Williams's distinctive voice as a "national treasure".

The Andy Williams Show was also a favourite on British television and he had numerous UK hits in the 1960s and 70s. Among the biggest were Can't Get Used to Losing You (1963), Can't Help Falling in Love (1970) and Where Do I Begin (1971), the theme from the 1970 film Love Story.

Williams's British career was revived in 1998 when his 30-year-old hit Can't Take My Eyes Off You was used in a commercial for Peugeot cars. Soon, a Fiat advertisement revived Music to Watch Girls By, and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (from one of his eight Christmas albums) was chosen for a Marks & Spencer Christmas campaign in 2002. He even appeared in an episode of Strictly Come Dancing in 2009 to sing Moon River.

Williams grew up in Wall Lake, Iowa, the second youngest of six children, to Jay and Florence Williams. His father, a railway worker, arranged for Andy and his three elder brothers, Bob, Don and Dick, to be the choir at the town's Presbyterian church. The quality of their harmonising inspired Jay to train the quartet for a professional career, beginning with performances at weddings and socials. His ambition for the boys led the family to move to Des Moines in 1936 to seek a regular radio show. There, Jay's perfectionism hardened into an obsession that Andy was to claim deeply dented his self-confidence with his edict that "you have to practise harder because you're not as good as others out there".

The Williams Brothers were eventually awarded their own 15-minute show on a station where Reagan was a sports reporter. But the family was still not well off, and when the youngest child died of spinal meningitis, the only way the family could pay the funeral costs was for the brothers to sing hymns at the funeral parlour after school for several months.

There were further moves to Chicago and Cincinnati so that the Williams Brothers could perform on more prestigious radio stations, and in 1944 the family uprooted again to Los Angeles. There, Jay Williams, by now his sons' full-time manager, negotiated a studio contract with MGM, which gave the quartet cameo roles in several B movies. He also persuaded Bing Crosby to employ them as backing singers on his hit record Swinging on a Star.

The group broke up as each brother was called up for second world war service – the 17-year-old Andy was briefly in the merchant navy – and did not re-form until 1947. They next performed as a cabaret act, appearing in Las Vegas and the Café de Paris in London before splitting up in 1953. The actor and choreographer Kay Thompson then launched Andy on a solo career, which ignited when he landed a job as resident vocalist on Steve Allen's late night television show on NBC (1954-56).

In 1956 he signed a recording contract with Cadence, and the following year had a No 1 hit in both the US and Britain with Butterfly. Although Williams studied Elvis Presley's recordings, he avoided rock'n'roll and had four more top 10 hits with ballads. In 1961 CBS offered him a lucrative record deal.

The 1960s were to be his golden decade. The Andy Williams Show ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971, with consistently high ratings, and he had at least one album in the US top 10 in every year, aided by his musical director, the acclaimed jazz pianist Dave Grusin. The essential blandness of the show was reassuring to middle America, but it introduced new singers, notably the Osmonds, whom Jay Williams had spotted performing at Disneyland, and the fledgling Jackson Five, featuring a seven-year-old Michael.

The popularity of the show kept the crooning Williams afloat during the tidal wave of pop in the 1960s. Also, while contemporaries such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett were baritones, Williams, a tenor, shared his vocal range with the Beatles and Beach Boys.

All his albums of the 1960s sold more than 1m copies each, with Moon River and Days of Wine and Roses each selling almost 2m. The latter was No 1 in the album charts for 16 weeks in 1963. When his contract with CBS came up for renewal in 1966, his manager, Alan Bernard, negotiated an unprecedented guarantee against royalties of $1.5m. In return, Williams agreed to record 15 albums over the next five years.

The formula for his albums was carefully calculated to attract fans of the television show. Williams seldom recorded new or unknown songs. Instead, he chose a mix of titles from successful movies, Broadway shows and versions of recent pop hits. Williams and his producer, Bob Mersey, were careful to include material by songwriters of the rock era, albeit their most melodic numbers. Thus, he recorded songs from the pens of Lennon and McCartney (Michelle), Burt Bacharach (Don't You Believe It) and Jim Webb (McArthur Park).

On one occasion, he decided to experiment with a "concept" album of songs by the arranger Mason Williams (no relation), depicting existence from birth to death. Clive Davis, the head of CBS Records, warned him that sales would suffer. After some haggling, the concept songs took up one side of the LP Bridge Over Troubled Water. Davis was proved right and the album sold only half a million copies.

The loss of his television show led to falling record sales for Williams in the early 1970s. However, his celebrity enabled him to play lucrative concerts and cabaret engagements throughout the US and Europe. In 1992 he opened his own Moon River theatre in Branson, Missouri, where he appeared for several months each year.

Although he was a lifelong Republican, Williams became a close friend of Robert and Ethel Kennedy in the mid-60s. He was present when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles during the 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination. Williams sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic at the funeral and voted for George McGovern at the Democratic party convention, having been nominated as a delegate by Kennedy. More in keeping with his political convictions was his outspoken criticism of Barack Obama, and he allowed the rightwing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh to broadcast his recording of Born Free with added gunshot sounds. Sony Music (now the owner of CBS Records) forced Limbaugh to remove it.

Williams was married twice. He had three children, Noelle, Christian and Bobby, named after Robert Kennedy, with his first wife, the singer and dancer Claudine Longet. After their divorce, he was publicly supportive when, following the death of her new partner in a shooting incident, she was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in 1977. He is survived by his second wife, Debbie Haas, and his children.

• Andy (Howard Andrew) Williams, singer, born 3 December 1927; died 25 September 2012

Tintin meets H. P. Lovecraft IV

Artist Murray Groat:

Glen Campbell and Leon Russell - Gentle On My Mind

The Roches - The Hammond Song

Last night's songs

At the Waggon & Horses, York included: -

Malted Milk
Love Me Do
Copperhead Road
I'll Follow The Sun
Bullfrog Blues
She's A Woman
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Sweet Virginia
Things We Said Today
Come On Over To My Place

On a wet and windy night, several brave souls managed to get along to the session. Another beerless evening for yours truely due to the need to drive. This is becoming a habit (no, the Habit is tomrrow night!).

Monday 24 September 2012

Peter Blake's ten favourite paintings...

The 10 best paintings, as chosen by Peter Blake
Peter Blake chooses the paintings that have impressed and inspired him most

Peter Blake
The Observer
Sunday 9 September 2012

1 The Ambassadors
Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533
I was asked to do a residency at the National Gallery in 1994, and almost on the first day I moved in they took The Ambassadors up to the restoration studio, and pretty much the day I moved out in 1996 it was brought back down. During my time there, I'd visit once a month to see the progress on it. They took off every vestige of painting that wasn't Holbein, so I saw it disappear, and then I saw it reappearing in the hands of the restorer. I think he repainted the anamorphic skull. For two years I was involved with that picture, the lifesize portrait of two young influential European ambassadors, and I learned all about it, but if I had to make a simple statement about why I like it – it's one of the most realistic pieces of portraiture that's ever been made.

Blue, Red, Green II
2 No specific painting selected
Ellsworth Kelly
I think this choice will come as a surprise to people as it's very uncharacteristic, but I like the minimalism of Kelly's work. Often the paintings are just a canvas with one colour, or two canvases simply painted and put together. My studio is like an extraordinary kind of museum, every surface is full, but I also have a secret love of minimalism. The concept of taking a canvas and painting it a single colour, like Yves Klein did with the blue paintings and Ellsworth Kelly has done in works such as the 1951 series Line Form Color, intrigues me.

3 Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, Hants
Stanley Spencer, 1932
When I was a student at the Royal College of Art I used to see Stanley Spencer visiting his art dealer, Tooth's, often wearing a yellow sou'wester helmet even though it might be quite sunny. In 1956 my teachers organised a coach trip to the chapel Spencer had been commissioned to paint in memory of the "forgotten dead" who had perished in the first world war. We picked up Stanley Spencer in Cookham and he came with us to the chapel in Burghclere and talked for about three hours. At one point he said: "I don't know why you students are interested in me." The concept of taking a building and completely lining it with the most extraordinary large paintings is something that intrigued me. It's one of the masterpieces of his work, a great tour de force of mural painting.

4 The Hundred Jugs
William Nicholson, 1916
He is someone I admire for his fluid style, able to paint a jug with five marks using a loaded brush. The Hundred Jugs was provoked by his son, the abstract artist Ben Nicholson, when he painted a single jug. Nicholson senior asked, why one jug? Ben replied: Well, why don't you paint a hundred? So he took 100 mundane domestic objects, put them into a rather sordid barn setting, and made something beautiful of them, an exemplar of still-life painting. I love his pictures of single objects and landscapes as well – he's a painter that I look at wishing I could paint like that but knowing I can't.

5 The Red Studio
Henri Matisse, 1911
The Red Studio, which depicts Matisse's studio by showing the negative space between his artworks, is the figurehead for a great body of French painting from that time, created by Matisse, Picasso, Dufy, Vlaminck and others. I think there's a kind of oddness about it because it was offered to the Tate but they turned it down for being too modern, and of course now it's one of the great classics of modern art and is in the MoMA in New York. Every so often you get a generation of great artists, and it happened to come together in Paris in the 1910s, maybe because of the first world war. A fantastic time in the history of art, and this painting is what emerges when I think of it.

6 Bed
Robert Rauschenberg, 1955
The later phase of my pop art was influenced by the American painter Jasper Johns, but I was also very interested in collage makers, and among them was Robert Rauschenberg. His enormous, three-dimensional collages went further than just making a picture: for instance, he put a clock into a painting, one that was actually working, so if you looked at it you could tell the time. Bed was such a simple statement: one morning in his studio he just took off the bedding from his bed, stuck the sheet and pillow down, stuck the American quilt down, and then painted over it. An extraordinary Duchampian breakthrough.

7 Ophelia
John Everett Millais, 1851-2
I've always been a tremendous admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites. Whenever I used to go to the old Tate, as it was when I was a student, their works were stuck in the basement, so I would always go down there. I was usually by myself, because very few people were interested in them, and I would sit in front of Ophelia, Christ in the House of his Parents and A Huguenot, all the great Millais paintings. I went on to read about their methods – the Pre-Raphaelites, Millais especially, put down a kind of wet ground and painted into that, so I learned an enormous amount about how to paint by looking at their pictures. Ophelia was the one I was most interested in and it remains a favourite.

8 Las Meninas
Diego Velázquez, 1656
Velázquez's large picture about illusion, painted quite loosely but beautifully in mainly black, white and silver. Everyone who has studied it has got their own theory about what it represents and that's what makes it so enigmatic. I first saw it when I was awarded a scholarship to travel in Europe, during which time I went to the Prado in Madrid. It was early in the morning and I was the only person there. I stood in front of Las Meninas for about an hour, gazing at it.

9 Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau)
Lucian Freud, 1981-3
This bridged his early paintings, which were very tightly figurative, almost photographic, and the way he went on to develop and paint in a much looser style. The idea of doing a transcription and putting it into a different form, taking the Watteau painting and including friends and acquaintances of his, dressing them in contemporary clothes and putting them into his studio, interested me. There's a sink in the corner, and the tap is dripping. He's painted running water. So you get this odd sense of something else happening in the picture, you're aware of time.

10 Orthodox Boys
Bernard Perlin, 1948
An exhibition came over to Tate Britain in 1956 called Modern Art in the United States. There was a whole list of extraordinary paintings on show, and one of them was Orthodox Boys by Bernard Perlin, two little Jewish boys standing on a subway platform in New York, in front of a panel that's been completely covered in graffiti. Perlin was part of the magical realist group that consisted of Ben Shahn, George Tooker and Jared French, a school of painting that depicted realism that was also a kind of surrealism. They painted situations where magic was happening, but rather than inventing the magic, it was a kind of everyday magic.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Alfred Hitchcock - by Philip French

A single creative intelligence
Philip French
19 September 2012

BFI Southbank, until October 9

James Bell, editor
150pp. BFI. £12. 978 1 84457 534 3

Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague, editors
624pp. Wiley-Blackwell. £120.
978 1 4051 8538 7

There are only two directors in the history of cinema immediately recognizable to moviegoers the world over: Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock. Both were Londoners, one working-class, the other lower-middle-class, born within ten years and ten miles of each other on either side of the Thames, and both found their greatest fame after moving to the United States. Back in 1952 when the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight & Sound published the first of its ten-yearly international polls of movie critics to determine the ten greatest pictures of all time, the then fifty-three-year-old Hitchcock’s name did not appear on the list; his best work was yet to come. The sixty-three-year-old Chaplin, whose career was virtually over, was represented by City Lights and The Gold Rush. But he only figured in the list once more (for Modern Times in 1992). Hitchcock finally made the grade in 1982, two years after his death, when Vertigo suddenly appeared in seventh place. This strange romantic thriller about a guilt-ridden detective’s obsession with a dead woman puzzled audiences by its seemingly clumsy structure; it had been a critical and box-office failure when initially released in 1958, and was out of distribution for years. But it now climbed rapidly, coming second in 2002 to Citizen Kane, the film that had held first place for forty years. Finally, Vertigo toppled Kane this summer by a clear margin in a poll that featured the choices of an unprecedented 850 critics.

This international accolade has been the most publicized event in a remarkable year for the man now more widely referred to as The Master than Henry James ever was. Currently a three-month season at BFI South Bank (the former National Film Theatre) is celebrating “The Genius of Hitchcock” with a complete retrospective season featuring restored versions of his silent pictures, lectures, discussions, and a handsomely designed book of essays by thirty-nine authors called 39 Steps to the Genius of Hitchcock, edited by James Bell. Arriving at the same time as Bell’s anthology is A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, an American symposium four times as long as Bell’s book, the work of thirty-one authors, four of whom also contribute to the BFI anthology: the authorities on British cinema Charles Barr and Tom Ryall, and the Americans Sidney Gottlieb and Jack Sullivan, respectively the editor of Hitchcock on Hitchcock and the author of the excellent Hitchcock’s Music (2006).

As well as these books and the BFI season, there are several other current works in which Hitchcock figures revealingly. The first is a stage version of The 39 Steps that’s been running in the West End since 2006. It’s an affectionate spoof in which four actors play over a hundred characters, and the author, Patrick Barlow, has gone not to John Buchan’s original novel but to Hitchcock’s movie of 1935. In addition to using Bernard Herrmann’s music from Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho, Barlow expects the audience to spot the allusions to other Hitchcock films and to recognize the director’s signature appearance in a sequence set in the Scottish Highlands.

Second, there is Fear in the Sun, the title itself a quotation from Hitchcock. It’s the latest in a series of period whodunits by Nicola Upson centring on the interwar writer Josephine Tey. In this one she meets with Alfred Hitchcock and his wife and collaborator Alma Reville in 1936 to discuss a screen version of her novel A Shilling for Candles, which became the film Young and Innocent. Upson presents a shrewd portrait of the couple at a crucial point in their lives, when Hitchcock was deeply discontented with filmmaking in Britain and preparing to move to the United States.

Finally, there are two films shortly to be released about the making of Hitchcock films. The first is The Girl, a television film in which Sienna Miller plays Tippi Hedren, the last significant Hitchcock blonde, who was famously abused and humiliated by the director on the set of The Birds in 1962. Two years later, when she rejected his sexual advances during the making of Marnie (a film in which a brutal business tycoon rapes his frigid wife during their honeymoon), Hitchcock sabotaged his own movie and threatened to ruin Hedren’s career. The other film, simply called Hitchcock, is about the Master’s most controversial movie, Psycho, and stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as Alma Reville. I will not easily forget that moment in a BBC Radio programme I produced in 1959 when Hitchcock was asked about his next film. “It’s called Psycho”, he said in that deep, flat, conspiratorial voice. “It’s my first horror film.” His tone indicated the sensational response he clearly anticipated.

The shaping of Hitchcock’s reputation has taken over eighty years, and numerous factors have contributed to the process: the revolutionary change in attitudes towards popular culture; critical infighting; the rise of television; the growth of film studies; technological developments in the way films are viewed; and perceptions of what is normative sexual behaviour when considering a filmmaker in whose work voyeurism, sadism and misogyny play significant roles. And of course Hitchcock himself, by his own statements and behaviour both contributed to and helped postpone his own elevation or, some might say, apotheosis.

By 1930, when he directed Blackmail, Britain’s first talking picture, the largely self-educated Hitchcock had an unequalled command of every aspect of his medium and was well informed on other branches of the arts. But paradoxically, he was thought both too easily swayed by intellectual commentators (John Grierson’s patronizing view) and too ready to consider the reactions of the man in the street and the mass audience (the opinion of many, including Arnold Bennett, who met him in 1929 over a project that never came to fruition).

Charles Barr claims that his silent films have a position of their own as examples of the heights that the medium could reach, but admits they would have gathered dust in the archives had he not gone on to make talkies. The films of the sound era build on themes, tropes and motifs he first explored in the 1920s, and almost every recurrent aspect of his work, including the fear of authority, the transference of guilt, the innocent man on the run, are to be found in The Lodger (1927), which he always described as “the first real Hitchcock film”.

In Cinema (1931), her survey of filmmaking, C. A. Lejeune called him a brilliant craftsman. But she thought his films lacked heart, “by which we mean, I take it, human understanding”, and considered him inferior to Anthony Asquith, his principal rival in Britain. In 1943, with a certain condescending affection, she called him “a very fat man who can tell a very good story”, and a few years later bracketed him with Orson Welles, Noël Coward and Preston Sturges, as one of the few directors behind whose work you find “a single creative intelligence”.

The 1930s saw a continuing rise of Hitchcock’s standing in the film industry. He became an endlessly quoted celebrity pontificating on his métier, gave up the idea of diversifying his work, and his own publicity machine crowned him as “the master of suspense”. This typecast him and began the process of turning him into a brand, and it invited his critics to regard him as simply a popular entertainer. The adjective “Hitchcockian” was coined to characterize his style and the set-piece highlights of his films. He posed for photographers, created a reputation for practical jokes, and was known to introduce himself to new female acquaintances by saying, “I don’t have a cock” (by which he meant, “call me Hitch”). In creating a public persona, this intensely private man became public property, and he was patronized and pigeonholed by middle-class critics and intellectuals who thought themselves his superior. One of his most relentless antagonists was his fellow Catholic artist, Graham Greene, despite or perhaps because of the fact that they had so much in common, both in the themes they pursued and their aim to unite art and entertainment. Greene, in his film criticism for the Spectator and elsewhere, never failed to denigrate Hitchcock, accusing him of lacking realism, settling for poorly developed scripts and general carelessness. In a letter to his brother Hugh in 1936, Greene mentions meeting Hitch to discuss a possible movie and calls him “a silly harmless clown”. Twenty years later he refused to sell Hitchcock the screen rights to Our Man in Havana.

In that letter to his brother, Greene said: “I shudder at the things he told me he was doing to Conrad’s Secret Agent”. To give Greene his due, he wrote a favourable review of Sabotage, the 1936 picture based on The Secret Agent. It was the only major work of fiction Hitchcock adapted, and he blamed himself for its box-office failure. He had offended popular expectations through the sudden violent death of a teenage innocent, though in fact he was only following Conrad. But he deliberately confirmed his reputation for an obsessive interest in homicide by analysing the murder of Sabotage’s central character in an essay on screen direction he wrote for Charles Davy’s Footnotes to the Film, an influential symposium from 1937. This was the first time something by Hitchcock appeared between hard covers (incidentally, alongside a piece by Greene), and that year Sabotage found two illustrious admirers outside the film business. In their travel book Letters From Iceland, W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice celebrated him in “Their Last Will and Testament”, a witty poem offering gifts and brickbats to various friends, enemies and assorted British celebrities:

We hope one honest conviction may at last be found
For Alexander Korda and the Balcon Boys
And the Stavisky Scandal in pictures and sound
We leave to Alfred Hitchcock with sincerest praise
Of Sabotage.

The following year, the appearance of The Lady Vanishes brought him even higher praise from the New York Herald Tribune, whose film critic Howard K. Barnes wrote: “Even in so synthetic a medium as the screen, it is possible to recognize the work of a master craftsman. The Lady Vanishes is a product of individual imagination and artistry quite as much as a Cézanne canvas and a Stravinsky score”. Hitchcock was not to read such praise again in a major paper for thirty years, though it is now commonplace. In his introduction to39 Steps to the Genius of Hitchcock, James Bell remarks: “Like Shakespeare, Hitchcock was both a great artist and a proud populist – someone who broke new ground while bringing audiences with him on his explorations”.

Moving to America just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Hitchcock embarked on the third stage in his career. He became a leading Hollywood director working with big budgets, lengthy shooting schedules and above all major stars, the most important being a succession of alluring blondes and two men, Cary Grant and James Stewart, who became respectively his ideal and realistic alter egos. Initially his subservience as an employee of Hollywood’s most powerful producer, David Selznick, rankled. But by the late 1940s he was his own master, and during the 50s he became extremely rich and what we now call a national treasure (an American one of course) as the pawky, avuncular, tongue-in-cheek presenter of macabre stories in his long-running television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

American critics accepted Hitchcock at his own evaluation as a popular entertainer fascinated by creating and solving technical problems. In Lifeboat, for instance, a dozen people are confined to a lifeboat in mid-Atlantic. Rope was filmed in what appears to be a single take. Rear Window is shot from the point of view of a man in a wheelchair observing his neighbours in a New York apartment block. When disappointed by the result, the critics complained about his self-imposed limitations and a certain lack of ambition.

In Britain, however, he became the victim of a long-standing disdain for, and condescension towards, Hollywood. and English critics found his American movies slow, heavy-handed and overblown when compared with the lighter, wittier, less pretentious British productions. In an article for Sequence in 1949, Lindsay Anderson found little to praise in the American films except “technical virtuosity” and thought that only Shadow of a Doubt recaptured his early realism. When the Sequence critics took over Sight & Sound in the early 1950s, this approach became the magazine’s standard policy.

In 1960, neither American nor British critics seemed ready for Psycho, a relatively low- budget film in which the sixty-year-old filmmaker set out to attract a younger audience with an innovative horror film that took the genre in new, more sophisticated directions. This landmark movie, its virtuoso shower sequence as influential as the Odessa Steps massacre in Battleship Potemkin, proved to be Hitchcock’s most popular. But it shocked older reviewers. Dwight Macdonald in Esquire called it “a reflection of a most unpleasant mind, a mean, sly, sadistic little mind”. C. A. Lejeune was so appalled that she walked out of the cinema and at the end of the year retired after thirty-two years as the Observer’s film critic.

What ultimately changed things was the infighting within and between intellectually competitive French film magazines, which happened to coincide with the greatest, most complex and personal period in Hitchcock’s work, from Strangers on a Train in 1951 to The Birds in 1963. There is an excellent account of this period in post-war French culture by James M. Vest in A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, and it culminated in a victory for the Cahiers du Cinéma writers. They saw him as a Catholic moralist working through the form of the melodrama and as the ultimate auteur, confirmation of their belief in the supremacy of cinema as the great art of the twentieth century. Their aim when they took their tape recorders to interview him was to lure the Master into agreeing with their high-flown ideas. His practice of politely deflecting or affecting to misunderstand questions of a personal and philosophical nature tended to disconcert them. Eventually, however, it would become the practice to follow D. H. Lawrence’s admonition: “Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it”. The outcome was the first serious book, Hitchcock by Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer in 1956, and a decade later François Truffaut’s much publicized book-length interview.

Though initially mocked in the English-speaking world, the ideas of these French writers would be taken seriously when they themselves became internationally acclaimed directors. Indeed, Truffaut was far more respected than Hitchcock when his book eventually appeared in 1966 and was widely translated. But it was a British writer, Robin Wood, a leading contributor to Movie, the chief English language journal devoted to auteur criticism, who wrote the seminal book on Hitchcock. The highly polemical first number of Movie appeared in June 1962 and contained a histogram of British and American film directors, proclaiming only two of them to be great. They were Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, on whom Wood was to write pioneering studies, the first being Hitchcock’s Films, in 1965, and he is rightly celebrated as the founder of what is now rather grandly called “Hitchcock studies”. Indeed A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock is dedicated to him.

I wrote the first review of Wood’s book for the Observer, and it had taken some effort to persuade a sceptical literary editor to give prominence to a fiercely Leavisite 50p original paperback that began, “Why should we take Hitchcock seriously?”. Wood went on to argue that he was one of the most accomplished artists of the twentieth century, and that Vertigo was “one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has yet given us”. Wood’s book was to elevate him from schoolteaching to the groves of academe, where he made a major contribution to the development of film studies on both sides of the Atlantic. After he came out, he was a major influence on gay and feminist readings of Hitchcock, of which there are extensive surveys in A Companion to Hitchcock: Florence Jacobowitz’s essay “Hitchcock and Feminist Criticism: From Rebecca to Marnie” and Alexander Doty’s “Queer Hitchcock”.

But the revolution was a slow, steady one. Shortly after reviewing Wood’s book, I was on the way home from Los Angeles, where a friend of mine had just finished a screenplay for Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain. Passing through New York with a desperate urge to share my enthusiasm for Hitchcock, I was having a drink with a senior editor at Time, and suggested that the forthcoming appearance of Hitchcock’s fiftieth film would be a perfect occasion for a Time cover story. He seemed only slightly more enthusiastic than the Observer editor had been about Wood’s book. A year passed, the film opened, and Hitchcock went to his grave without the recognition of a Time cover or an Oscar for best direction.

Since then there have been over eighty books on Hitchcock covering every aspect of his career and work, including Slavoj Zizek’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock), 1992, an anthology largely written by critics from the former Yugoslavia, and the handsomely produced Alfred Hitchcock:The master of suspense (2006), a fetishistic pop-up book “paper engineered” by Kees Moerbeek, featuring seven films: Saboteur, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain and Frenzy. In Hitchcock, art and entertainment, the personal and the objective, the real and surreal, merge. His movies appeal to a new sensibility that rejects conventional categorization or values. In her South Bank lecture as part of the Hitchcock season, Camille Paglia spoke of the difficulty of engaging her students in the serious, European high-art cinema of the 1960s and 70s, which they find tedious. They have no problems, however, with Hitchcock, to whom they immediately warm, and one noticed a certain wistfulness in Paglia’s response to their rejection of the truly exacting films that had shaped her sensibility.

In his essay “Hitchcock’s America” in the Bell symposium, Kent Jones writes: “On a very basic level I don’t think there is any such thing as a bad, indifferent or expendable Hitchcock film . . . . I find that Hitchcock’s body of work has become richer and more complex with each passing year, swallowing whole every complaint, demurral and objection”. There is indeed something about Alfred Hitchcock that only a handful of other filmmakers have: he creates a fascination that makes one want to explore every aspect of his life and work, however seemingly insignificant, perverse or repellent. He imposes himself on us. In this sense he does resemble Shakespeare.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Today's set lists

At the York Beer Festival (with Ron): -

Set 1: -
You Better Move On
Bye Bye Love
Love Hurts
Wild Horses
Let It Be Me
Dream Baby
You Got It
Heart Of Gold
I Don't Want To Talk About It

Set 2: -
The Price Of Love
To Know You Is To Love You
Sweet Virginia

An enjoyable afternoon of music and (much) beer attended by many pals + Lucy & Lee. It was a very good thing that the train back terminated at Newcastle otherwise who knows where I might have ended up!

The keen-eyed will notice that the greenish poster refers to Ravenscroft ale! A first I think.

A conservative history of America...

September 19, 2012
A Conservative History of the United States
Posted by Jack Hitt

1500s: The American Revolutionary War begins: “The reason we fought the revolution in the sixteenth century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown.”—Rick Perry

1607: First welfare state collapses: “Jamestown colony, when it was first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and dying in the snow.”—Dick Armey

1619-1808: Africans set sail for America in search of freedom: “Other than Native Americans, who were here, all of us have the same story.”—Michele Bachmann

1775: Paul Revere “warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”—Sarah Palin.

1775: New Hampshire starts the American Revolution: “What I love about New Hampshire… You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world.”—Michele Bachmann

1776: The Founding Synod signs the Declaration of Independence: “…those fifty-six brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen.”—Mike Huckabee

1787: Slavery is banned in the Constitution: “We also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.”—Michele Bachmann

1801: “Thomas Jefferson creates the Marines for the Islamic pirates that were happening.”—Glenn Beck

1812: The American War for Independence ends: “ ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’…that song—written during the battle in the War of 1812—commemorates the sacrifice that won our liberty.”—Mitt Romney

1861: Civil War breaks out over pitting “individual rights as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence against collective rights.”—The Weekly Standard

1862: African-Americans join the Confederate Army to defend slavery: “You’ll find blacks in almost every regiment throughout the South, who fought right alongside white Southerners… And in almost every case, it was a voluntary decision that the freed blacks made.”—Ray McBerry

1908: The real Pledge of Allegiance is written: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands, one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.”—Dan Quayle

1916: Planned Parenthood opens genocide clinics: “When Margaret Sanger—check my history—started Planned Parenthood, the objective was to put these centers in primarily black communities so they could help kill black babies before they came into the world.”—Herman Cain

1950: Senator Joseph McCarthy saves America from Communism: “Joe McCarthy was a great American hero.”—Representative Steve King

1961: Barack Obama is born, in Africa: “And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya.”—Mike Huckabee

1961: The Soviet Union brainwashes its first Marxist terrorist spybot: “Soviet Russian Communists knew of Barack from a very early date… he was raised and groomed Communist to pave the way for their future.”—Janet Porter

1963: G.O.P. clergyman delivers his famous “I have a dream” speech: “It should come as no surprise that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Republican.”—Human Events blog

1964: Republicans fight for the Civil Rights Act: “We were the people who passed the civil-rights bills back in the sixties without very much help from our colleagues across the aisle.”—Representative Virginia Foxx

1967: Indonesia brainwashes its first Islamic terrorist spybot: “Why didn’t anybody ever mention that that man right there was raised—spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father—as a Muslim and was educated in a Madrassa?”—Steve Doocy

1967: Max Cleland blows himself up with a grenade trying to drink beer: “Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends.”—Ann Coulter

1967: John Kerry likely shoots himself in the leg in order to score a Purple Heart medal: “There are legitimate questions about whether or not… it was a self-inflicted wound.”—Michelle Malkin

1968: George W. Bush bravely joins the National Guard: “This was not an endeavor without risk.”—Bob Harmon

July 20, 1969: Neil Armstrong makes a historic utterance: “The first word spoken from the moon was ‘Houston.’ ”—Rick Perry

1977: America’s capital is briefly moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.—Dan Quayle

1993: Barack Obama appears in the hip-hop video “Whoomp! There It Is!”: “Pay close attention to his ears poking out, the shape of his nose, and skin color.”—Tennessee Sons of Liberty

1993: Hillary Clinton claims her first kill, Vincent Foster—Jerry Falwell video

1994: Bill Clinton tops Hillary with twenty-four murders: these people died “under other than natural circumstances.”— Representative William Dannemeyer.

1998: Actually, the Clinton murders number forty people: “There was talk that this would be another body to add to the list of forty bodies or something that were associated with the Clinton Administration.”—Linda Tripp.

1998: Update: Clinton murders eighty people: “In recent months, a list of more than 80 deaths associated directly or indirectly with Clinton has been the buzz of the new media.”—Joseph Farah

1999: Global cooling begins: “For the last decade the climate has been cooling.”—Mary Matalin

September 11, 2001: Nothing happened: “We had no domestic attacks under Bush.”— Rudy Giuliani

May 1, 2003: The war in Iraq is won: “Mission Accomplished”—White House banner

May, 2004: Abu Ghraib pranksters pull some funny ones: “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation … I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release?”—Rush Limbaugh

2006: The Rapture of Jesus Christ débuts: “We are in the last days.”—Michele Bachmann

2006: W.M.D. discovered: “We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”—Rick Santorum

2009: The Department of Veteran Affairs institutes new cost-cutting policy: they have “a manual out there telling our veterans… to commit suicide.”—Michael Steele

2009: The $3,128 light switch tax begins: “…a series of new taxes, including a light switch tax that would cost every American household $3,128 a year.”—House Republican Conference

2009: Obama strikes traditional motto from America’s coins: “ ‘In God We Trust’ is Gone!”—Patriot Action Network

2009: Michigan diversifies its legal system: “The judges in Dearborn are using, and allowing to be used, Shariah law.”—Representative Leo Berman

2009: Democrats give preferential treatment to their base: The federal Hate Crime law would create “special protection for pedophiles.”—Representative Steve King

2010: Flying Jihad Terror Babies invade America: “It appeared they would have young women who became pregnant. They would get them into the United States to have a baby, they wouldn’t even have to pay anything for the baby, and then they would return back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists.”—Representative Louie Gohmert

2010: Drug dealers invade America: “Mexican drug cartels have seized control of at least two American ranches inside the U.S. territory near Laredo, Texas.”—Kimberly Dvorak

2010: And form a beachhead in Arizona: “Our law-enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that have been beheaded.”—Governor Jan Brewer

2011: Radiation cures cancer: “There is a growing body of evidence that radiation in excess of what the government says are the minimum amounts you should be exposed to are actually good for you and reduce cases of cancer.”—Ann Coulter

2011: Fluorescent bulbs cause epilepsy: “…broken C.F.L. bulbs allegedly cause migraines and epilepsy attacks.”—Phyllis Schlafly

2011: Windmills cause epilepsy: “The health risk of ‘flicker’ impact created by shadows of blades of turbines poses real and significant health risks, particularly seizures.”—Laurence Ehrhardt

2011: Arabic is declared America’s second language: “Some of our state’s educational administrators joined the feds in seeking to mandate Arabic classes for Texas children.”—Chuck Norris

2011: Obama outlaws fishing: people “can’t go fishing anymore because of Obama.”—Rush Limbaugh

2011: Obama provides health insurance for dogs: “In the health care bill, we’re now offering insurance for dogs.”—Glenn Beck

2011: President George W. Bush kills Osama bin Laden: “Thanks to George Bush…. Because if Obama had his way we wouldn’t have gotten bin Laden, you know that.”—Sean Hannity

Friday 21 September 2012

The Pendletones (2012-style)...

David Bowie: London Boy

London boy
News that the V&A will host a David Bowie retrospective reminds me of how deep his roots in the capital are. 

Dave Hill
Friday 14 September 2012

I liked it that David Bowie declined to appear at the Olympics despite his song Heroes being the unofficial theme of the Games. His absence seemed to fit with his artistic single-mindedness during his heyday years, his perpetual state of otherness and his refusal to retrace former steps.

He hasn't been a public figure for some time, but he's been in the news lately because the Victoria and Albert museum has announced that next March it will be exhibiting a collection of items from his large private archive - stage costumes, musical instruments, photographs and so on. Thinking about the exoticism of Bowie's fame, it's amazing to think that his rise to superstardom began at a pub called The Toby Jug in Tolworth.

I'd never even heard of Tolworth until I ran through it last year, training for the London marathon, yet this uneventful suburb of pure Kingston semi-detachment was the birth place of Ziggy Stardust, the flame-haired Bowie alter ego for whom The Toby Jug turned out to be a launch pad for his conquering the world - having, of course, turned up in Heddon Street, W1 from whichever far out planet he was born on.

The extraterrestrial pop star has, in fact, been a very London artist, as I imagine the V&A show will reflect. Born in Brixton, raised in Bromley and a ravenous devourer of all the demimonde allure the capital could offer, he's old enough to remember the London of dockers and bowler hats that his generation of pop stars transcended, out-dressed and outlived.

His song London Boys is a picaresque portrayal of Mod-era anxiety, his rendition of Gershwin's A Foggy Day (In London Town) as eerie as the weather it describes. He lives in New York now and his creative inspirations have been drawn from across the globe, but despite that or, perhaps, because of it, I think of him as a complete Londoner.

Thursday 20 September 2012

From the sublime Nick Lowe...

(No the shitty video, though)

... to the ridiculous

The Milt Jackson of Jarrow.

Last night's set list

At The Habit, York (with Ron): -

Bye Bye Love
To Know You Is To Love You
Wild Horses
You Got It

An enjoyable night of music with various strummers, a violinist (excellent stuff Sarah), a magical version of Hallelujah by Dave Ward Maclean (none of the original lyrics by the way) but what an abomination - a rap poet who said f*!k every other word; if he'd added the odd c*!t now and again it might have been acceptable - but it was trash.

Great songs from the ever-original Mr Mark Wynn to start the proceedings - so a splendid time was guaranteed for all.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Neil Young Interview

Neil Young Comes Clean
David Carr
September 12 2012

Driving down the hill above his ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Francisco, Neil Young took a deep whiff of the redwood forest momentarily serving as the canopy for his 1951 Willys Jeepster convertible.

“I can still remember how it smelled when I first pulled in here — I was driving this car,” he said, recalling the trip in 1970 when he bought the place and named it Broken Arrow, after the Buffalo Springfield song.
The author of some of the spookiest, darkest songs in the American folk canon seemed jolly on this late-August day. Even if he was accompanied by a reporter, generally not his favorite species of human, the motion soothed him. “I’ve always been better moving than I am standing still,” he said.

Young, 66, spotted this land out the window of a plane banking out of San Francisco four decades ago and now owns nearly 1,000 acres of it. His song “Old Man” is a tribute to the caretaker who first showed him the place.

“I ran out of money, so I had to sell some of it,” he said. “That’s O.K., because it was too big. Everything happens for a reason.” He kept his eyes on the narrow road through the giant redwoods.

It was hard to reconcile the affable guy motoring along on a sunny day with his past incarnations: the portentous folkie of “Ohio,” the rabid anti-commercialist who gave MTV the musical middle finger with “This Note’s For You,” the angry rocker who threatened to hit the cameramen at Woodstock with his guitar. He was happy partly because he was here.

“For whatever you’re doing, for your creative juices, your geography’s got a hell of a lot to do with it,” he said. “You really have to be in a good place, and then you have to be either on your way there or on your way from there.”

We would spend a few hours creeping along — he drove slowly but joyfully, as if the automobile were a recent invention — on our way there or on our way from there, the ranch where Young lives with his wife, Pegi, and their son, Ben. His longtime producer and friend, David Briggs, who died in 1995, hated making records here, deriding the hermetic refuge as a “velvet cage.”

In addition to the studio, where more than 20 records have been made, there is an entire building given over to model trains, another where vintage cars are stored and another piled with his master recordings. Llamas and cows roam under cartoonishly large trees. It seems like a made-up place, an open-air fortress of eccentricity meant to protect the artist who lives there. But what it has most of all is not a lot of people.

“I like people, I just don’t have to see them all the time,” he said, laughing. David Crosby, his bandmate in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, used to describe the complicated route into his ranch as “my filtering system,” Young said.

He made a bunch of rights and lefts through the forest before getting out to unlock the gate. Others might have an electronic gate, but Young likes the mechanical experience of slipping a key into a padlock and swinging something open. He is fundamentally analog, despite the occasional electronic excesses in his music. 

He likes amps with knobs that go to 12 and things that click when you touch them.

I made it past the filtering system because Young was promoting his autobiography, “Waging Heavy Peace,” which comes out next week. The book is elliptical and personal, with little of the period poetics of “Just Kids,” by Patti Smith, or the scabrous detail of “Life,’’ by Keith Richards.

Young once promised he would never write a book about himself, according to Jimmy McDonough’s biography of him, “Shakey.” But time passed, and then Young broke his toe a year ago and needed something to fill his time and refresh his fortune.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to continue to mainly be a musician forever, because physically I think it’s going to take its toll on me — it’s already starting to show up here and there,” he said. Writing a book, he added, allowed him “to do what I want the way I want to do it.”

“Waging Heavy Peace” eschews chronology and skips the score-settling and titillation of other rocker biographies. Still, Young shows a little leg and has some laughs. Yes, he partied with Charles Manson and tried to hook him up with a recording contract. He admits he saw a picture of the actor Carrie Snodgress in a magazine before he courted her, married her and divorced her. He pleads guilty to having been busted for drugs with Eric Clapton and Stephen Stills. He even has a little fun with Crosby. “I still remember ‘the mighty Cros’ visiting the ranch in his van,” he writes. “That van was a rolling laboratory that made Jack Casady’s briefcase look like chicken feed. Forget I said that! Was my mike on?”

But as the book progresses, the operatics of the rock life give way to signal family events, deconstructions of his musical partnerships and musings on the natural world. It is less a chronicle than a journal of self-appraisal. The book, like today’s drive, is a ride through Young’s many obsessions, including model trains, cars like the one we were touring in and Pono, a proprietary digital musical system that can play full master recordings and will, he hopes, restore some of the denuded sonic quality to modern music.

Although he rarely meets the press, mostly out of lack of interest, there is no reluctance on this occasion. A plain-spoken Canadian from the tiny town of Omemee, Ontario, and a son who has done the work of his father — Scott Young, a Canadian journalist, wrote more than 30 books — he wants to be understood. 

Every question is mulled and answered directly, without ornamentation. But each time when I guessed which way we were turning, on the road or in conversation, he almost always went the other way. “Too many decisions to make with no sign of what to do,” he said, laughing as he steered around a hairpin onto a side road.

Young has routinely fled success, severed profitable musical partnerships, dumped finished records and withdrawn when it was precisely the moment to cash in. He is a person who will never leave well enough alone. “Sometimes a smooth process heralds the approach of atrophy or death,” he writes in “Waging Heavy Peace.”

Doing as he pleases has worked out pretty well for him. As a young musician torn between the crunch of the Rolling Stones and the lyricism of Bob Dylan, he avoided the fork altogether and forged his own path. Over the course of more than 40 records and hundreds of performances that date to the mid-’60s, he has backed Rick James, jammed with Willie Nelson, dressed up with Devo, rocked with Pearl Jam and traded licks with Dylan. Some of it has been terrible, much of it remarkable. He has made movies by himself and with Jim Jarmusch and Jonathan Demme. He called out Richard Nixon, praised Ronald Reagan and made fun of the second Bush. And he has little interest in how all of that was received. “I didn’t care and still don’t,” he said, then went on: “I experimented, I tried things, I learned things, I know more about all of that than I did before.”

His longtime manager and friend Elliot Roberts describes Young as “always willing to roll the dice and lose” and says: “He has no problem with failure as long as he is doing work he is happy with. Whether it ends up as a win or loss on a consumer level is not as much of an interest to him as one might think.”

His records don’t sell as much as they used to, but while many of his contemporaries are wanly aping their past, Young takes to the stage surrounded by mystery and expectation. And now he’s doing so again on tour with Crazy Horse, a thunderous, messy concoction of a band that has backed him over the years and been a source of constancy amid all the hard turns in his career. “We’ve got two new albums, so we’re not an oldies act, and we’re relevant because we’re playing these new songs, so that gives us something to stand on,” he said.

It’s safe to predict that people will come, critics will rave and a 66-year-old man afflicted with epilepsy and serious back problems (and who has had polio and suffered an aneurysm) will rock hard enough to become a time machine back to when music was ecstatic and ill considered.

Dylan, in a note his manager passed to me, says it’s clear why Young has not tumbled into musical dotage: “An artist like Neil always has the upper hand,” he says. “It’s the pop world that has to make adjustments. 

All the conventions of the pop world are only temporary and carry no weight. It’s basically two different things that have nothing to do with each other.”

“Waging Heavy Peace” faithfully catalogs the disappointment Young has produced in those around him, but he expresses little regret today. “I work for the muse,” he said. When he swerved into techno and country after Geffen Records signed him in the early ’80s, Young was accused of making “unrepresentative” music. 

He responded by taking a pay cut of half a million dollars for each of his next three albums. “I’m not here to sell things. That’s what other people do, I’m creating them. If it doesn’t work out, I’m sorry; I’m just doing what I do. You hired me to do what I do, not what you do. As long as people don’t tell me what to do, there will be no problem.”

Two nights before, at the Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Young headlined with Crazy Horse, their sixth performance this year after going the better part of a decade without playing together. Beck went on before them and covered “After the Gold Rush,” and Foo Fighters followed, with Dave Grohl mentioning that the sooner he got done, the sooner they’d all get to hear Young play. (He stood at the side of the stage afterward for Young’s entire set.)

The youthful festival crowd wore little more than tattoos on this damp summer night. Young and Crazy Horse took the stage looking like the Friday-night band at the local V.F.W.: big shirts, work boots and hair gone gray or just gone. Given the growing chill and a restless crowd, it would have made sense to begin with a song reminding the audience that a Big Deal Rock Star was at work.

Instead, the band kicked into “Love and Only Love,” a remarkable song from Young’s 1990 album with Crazy Horse, “Ragged Glory,” but hardly a singalong. It lasted 14 minutes, with Young shredding huge reams of noise and mixing it up with his fellow guitarist Frank (Poncho) Sampedro. Seeing them play was like watching an ancient steam shovel unfurl, claw the night air and dig in. “We thought it was important to introduce ourselves, to remind people what Crazy Horse is all about,” Sampedro said later.

Young, who has never been a graceful stage presence, lurched to the front. He is old — he began playing in this town more than 40 years ago — and bent over his guitar, but he is not old and bent. Young has never been physically whole, but that brokenness has annealed rather than slowed him. He is anything but a frail man when he has a guitar in his hand.

His musical ideas work, whether plugged into a stack of amps or plucked on an acoustic guitar. As his solo career veered from unadorned folk into multiple genres, critics scratched their heads and fans felt whipsawed. But the “Rust Never Sleeps” tour in 1978 was bifurcated into acoustic and electric sets, a set of tracks he still switches between, which, along with his refusal to license his music for ads, has made him an emblem of authenticity for the next generation, the keeper of rock’s soul. And after all his side trips, he always came back to Crazy Horse, as he had tonight.

Derided by more sophisticated players over the years, Crazy Horse is as much an ethos as a band. As Young says in his book: “The songs the Horse likes to consume are always heartfelt and do not need to have anything fancy associated with them. The Horse is very suspicious of tricks.”

The band’s music with Young is built around a long-running sibling argument between Young and Old Black, his painted-over Gibson Les Paul guitar. Young, born in 1945, is the older brother to Old Black, made in 1952. Through the years, Old Black has been souped up, tweaked and rebuilt, but it has never been replaced as his musical partner. When he plays it, he often looks and sounds furious. (In explaining the equanimity that characterizes his book, he writes: “Sometimes it’s better not to blow up at someone. I can save that anger and emotion for my guitar playing.”)

Young can plink out a song on a piano, and play harmonica when it serves, but he has an intimate, if savage, relationship with his guitars. “If you wanna write a song, ask a guitar,” he said to Patti Smith onstage at a book convention earlier this year to promote “Waging Heavy Peace.”

He played that night as if he were mad at Old Black, even if he smiled into the squall. The crowd remained enthralled as he tortured a single note with the whammy bar, although this kind of indulgence has worn out some of his other playing partners. “We’ve played that note, can we move on, Neil?” Stephen Stills says with a laugh over the phone as he recalls playing with Young.

The guitar owned the night, but the secret to Young’s durability is his voice, a nasal-inflected borderline whine that was never a luxurious instrument, but remains intact. He sounded as he always did, yelling the chorus to “Powderfinger” or plaintively singing “The Needle and the Damage Done.”

Jonathan Demme, who has made three concert films with Young, including “Neil Young Journeys,” which came out in the summer, finds Young’s playing and visage “irresistibly cinematic.” “I saw Neil after a show and told him how amazing it was, and he said: ‘Well, it better be amazing. Those people out there paid a lot of money to be here.’ ”

Part of the reason they pay to see Young in concert is that he respects the form. And they show up expecting the unexpected.

“You never know what you are going to get in a Neil Young concert because he never knows exactly what he is going to do,” says Willie Nelson, a friend who started Farm Aid with Young and John Mellencamp in 1985. “That way everyone is surprised.”

Tonight, he was feeling playful, telling the crowd, “I wrote this one this morning,” before starting into “Cinnamon Girl,” one of a trilogy of songs, which also includes “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down by the River,” that he wrote in a single-day fever back in 1968. Later, he stepped to the mike and introduced a new song by saying: “We can’t help ourselves, we’re trained like chimps. They trained us to write songs, and we don’t know how to stop.”

The fourth song of the night was “Walk Like a Giant,” from the forthcoming album with Crazy Horse, “Psychedelic Pill”:

I used to walk like a giant on the land
Now I feel like a leaf floating in a stream
I want to walk like a giant.

The song ended with a solid four minutes of a repeating, thudding note as the band stomped in big steps, dinosaurs in full frolic. Boom. Boom. Boom. The audience tried clapping but finally gave up until the amps died down. It sounded like a hair-metal parody, but in Young’s hands it had the aura of ceremony.

While Young played, I stood stage right with his son Ben, a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy who is unable to speak. When he was born, Young and his wife, Pegi, a singer and musician, put everything else aside to help him develop his motor skills. Now 34, Ben goes on every tour. “He’s our spiritual leader in that way,” Young says. “We take him everywhere, and he’s like a measuring stick for what’s going on.” (Zeke, Young’s son by Snodgress, has a very mild case of cerebral palsy and works at Home Depot. Young’s daughter, Amber, is a talented young artist who works in San Francisco.)

Ben Young, which is how his father often refers to him, was bundled against the chill and surrounded by friends. He looked over at me at one point, and I found myself wishing I knew what he thought about the proceedings. “I tell Ben everything, and he listens,” Young would tell me later. “He knows everything, but who is he going to tell?”

Sitting with Young in his bus after the show as he ate a salad and drank lemonade — he’s been sober for a year, the first time in decades that he has worked without drinking or smoking pot — it felt as if we were inside a guitar, the bus’s rococo interior constructed out of layers of redwood sheets, built exactly to Young’s taste. Money doesn’t seem to matter much to Young unless he is out of it, but things matter plenty. With assorted companions, he builds and tweaks guitars, cars, buses and trains.

Sampedro, along with the drummer Ralph Molina and the bassist Billy Talbot, passed through, all of them clearly pleased with the night. Young’s manager, Elliot Roberts, talked mostly about how cold it got, but Young said, “All I felt was a cool refreshing breeze every once in a while.”

True enough, the wind had picked up at the end of the set, when Young played “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” a version of which poses one of rock’s eternal riddles: Is it better to burn out or fade away? In the book, Young acknowledges that Kurt Cobain quoted the line in his suicide note and John Lennon disagreed with its premise. Young settled on a hedge: “At 65, it seems that I may not be at the peak of my rock ’n’ roll powers,” he said. “But that is not for sure.”

For no reason other than it pleases Young, the model-train barn near his home is framed by two actual rail cars. Back in the day, he and his pals used to snort coke and drink wine and tinker with the model layout until it grew into 3,000 square feet of track and trains.

Young picked up a controller that appeared to be capable of landing a rocket on an asteroid and reminded me that, as an investor in Lionel Trains, he invented Train Master Command Control (which allows you to run multiple trains at once), as well as RailSounds (which provides realistic railroad audio). Young lost a lot of money on his investment, but he’s still a board member at Lionel and ended up with a lot of cool gear, so it all sort of worked out.

As different trains began to move slowly, Young choreographed and narrated. “There’s all different buttons I can press to make them go fast or slow, but they’re all going the same speed, so they’re not going to run into each other except at a crossover,” he said. “I am the Wizard of Oz in here. I can make anything happen because I know how it all works. Music is math.”

When Young finds something he likes or cares about, he has a single mode: all in. With a team of technologists and investors, he has been working on an electric car for years — the LincVolt — and when there was an accident and it burned, he just started over. He still has plans to drive it to the White House and make a movie about the car. He can speak with authority about biodiesel, Chinese battery manufacturing and the specific optical properties of 16-millimeter film.

“I worry about global warming,” Demme says, comparing himself to Young as a man of action, “but I’m not out there meeting with scientists and funding research.”

Young gets most worked up when he talks about Pono, the music system he has developed. It is beyond the hobby stage: Warner Brothers has agreed to make its catalog available on Pono, and Young and Roberts are negotiating with other record companies and investors.

We walked out of the train barn past a Hummer that runs on biodiesel and hopped in yet another car, a ’78 El Dorado, to listen to the Pono system. Right now, it needs a trunk full of gear, but Young and Roberts are working with a British manufacturer to come up with a portable version. He gave a demonstration that replicated MP3s, CDs, Blu-ray and then the full Pono sound.

“You are getting less than 5 percent of the original recording,” he said at first. He put on Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and then switched to Pono. The horns jumped and the car was filled with lush, liquid sound. He madly toggled between different outputs to make sure I was getting it.

In the wake of “Americana,” a collection of folk songs recorded with Crazy Horse that was released last spring, he is already making another album and writing another book, this one about all of the cars he has owned. Roberts handles Young’s business and artistic interests with a great deal of savvy, so Young is good at making money — which helps, because he is also good at making it go away. “I spend it all,” he said. “I like to employ people and make stuff. It will be my undoing.”

He has dropped a fortune making films, directing five under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey, including “Rust Never Sleeps,” “Human Highway” and “Greendale,’’ and sharing credit on several others. His memoir is of a piece with his moviemaking impulse, but it’s less pricey.

“Writing is very convenient, has a low expense and is a great way to pass the time,” he says in “Waging Heavy Peace.” “I highly recommend it to any old rocker who is out of cash and doesn’t know what to do next.”

He decided to do it sober after talking with his doctor about a brain that had endured many youthful pharmaceutical adventures, in addition to epilepsy and an aneurysm. For someone who smoked pot the way others smoke cigarettes, the change has not been without its challenges, as he explains in his book: “The straighter I am, the more alert I am, the less I know myself and the harder it is to recognize myself. I need a little grounding in something and I am looking for it everywhere.”

Sitting at Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Boulevard near the end of the day, he elaborated: “I did it for 40 years,” he said. “Now I want to see what it’s like to not do it. It’s just a different perspective.”

Drunk or sober, he can be a hippie with a mean streak. He broke off a tour with Stephen Stills without warning and sent him a telegram — “Funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach, Neil.”

I asked if he was a good person to work with or for. “The fact is that I can be really irritable when I’m unhappy about stuff,” he said. “I can be a nit-picker about details that seem to be over the top. But then again I’m into what I’m into, so a lot of people forgive me because of that.”

In the book, over and over, he is there, and then he is gone — from Buffalo Springfield, from Crosby, Stills & Nash, from his love affairs — and not given to explanations. When he loses interest, he loses interest.
After we left the restaurant, we drove back to his ranch, but we stayed in the car near the house, because his daughter, who was visiting, did not feel well. Of all the obsessions that live on the thousand acres of his ranch, the family is the one that enables all the rest, he said.

Young could have crawled inside himself and remained there, huffing his own gas and reprising a storied, moldering past as so many of his peers have. But family life — a complicated, challenging one — suits and calms him. He and his wife, along with Roberts and a group of interested parents, created the Bridge School, a private institution for profoundly handicapped children located in Hillsborough, Calif., because the existing ones nearby were insufficient for Ben’s needs. In a benediction near the end of “Waging Heavy Peace,” Young says much of his current battle is to be a person good enough to be worthy of his family’s love.

In our crisscrossing the ranch, at one point we stopped in an outdoor graveyard of old cars, a white-trash tableau of desiccated, rusting sheet metal. He stroked the giant fin of a ’59 Lincoln and said it may yet roar to life. “Every car is full of stories. Who rode in ’em, where they went, where they ended up, how they got here.”