Saturday, 31 December 2016

The streets groan with little Caesars ...

or, in full,

The streets groan with little Caesars,  Napoleons and cunts 
With their building blocks and their tiny plastic phones Counting on their fingers, with crumbs down their fronts 

from Darker with the Day, the last track on No More Shall We Part, the 2000 album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Up until this year's extraordinary Skeleton Tree, I'd say that No More Shall We Part was my favourite Nick Cave album, closely followed by The Boatman's Call. One of the many things those albums have in common is Nick does a lot of walking.

No More Shall We Part is a very walking album. Darker with the Day begins "And so with that, I thought I'd take a final walk" ... he's just walking around, saying what he says.

It reminds me of running - running in the sun around Tooting, Wandsworth, Clapham Common, in the rain and snow around Sevenoaks, around Ashford and Willesborough.

Even on my best days, when there was a great big sun smiling down, I'd run with hatred and loathing, I'd run as if every amateur, dilettante, hack, cowboy, clone, little Caesar, Napoleon and cunt was my sworn enemy.

It can make one feel special, walking or running through the world, observing and thinking you and Nick Cave are the only ones who realises it's a world of hacks, Caesars, Napoleons and cunts, but, of course, everyone else is thinking it too. This is hardly one of Nick Cave's most insightful lyrics, but it's the sheer deliciousness of the juxtapositions and the annunciation which makes it such a joy. Cunts, he said. Oh, yes. To this stately, mournful tune, cunts. 

And then there's delight in the next two lines - the bit about crumbs down their front reminds me of a bit in Stewart Lee's latest Comedy Vehicle about Rod Liddle having food down his front. Sadly, it's not on youtube or anywhere, so you've either seen it or you haven't, there's no way to describe it.

So, it's been a shit year for good things, the left has lost, let's be honest, the balance has tipped and the window of hope has closed. We're back in some dark ages and they may be the darkest of the lot.

But there are still marvellous master craftsmen like Cave and Lee, there's still great joy in self-righteous loathing, sometimes I don't think I'd swap that for all the hope in the world ...

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Albums in 2016

It's been a hell of a year, all told. Propitious personal circumstances made it a year I got to listen to a lot of music (while all other cultural interests fell by the wayside), but, neverthless, 2016 has been, all told, a heavy year for hope and all that. A lot of what's happened in music has reflected this. Gloom and doom and depth and darkness everywhere. Beyonce's Lemonade, which seemed at once like an unusually serious, major work, could seem almost trivial in comparison to some of what's come along. Not that that takes away from its quality.

BeyoncĂ©'s been great for ages, of course, for almost two decades. She's so far pre-eminent in pop music it's not even fair. But this album, this Lemonade, this has something truly special about it. I haven't even ever watched the accompanying film. Perhaps I should, but the music alone is enough for me. 

It was one of those rare albums that hit me instantly - first listen, I was gripped, going with the journey through the different songs. Some people have said there are some lighter, less effective songs in the second half, but her vocal always lifts them. It's a concept album that works - it's personal and political without feeling forced. It's also a brilliant incorporation of the best of the indie America, a perfectly executed crossover, where rock and RnB fans can hook onto the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jack White and James Blake and the Weeknd and rap fans can enjoy Kendrick Lamar, and song after song leaps out at you. It's a great, great album, the comfortable best of nearly every year.

There are a few themes in the best music this year. One of them is, of course, death. We'll get to that. The other, which I just touched upon, is what Gram Parsons called "cosmic American music". In a country which seems, from a distance, to be as horribly divided as it's been for 150 years, some of the great albums and musical moments flew in the face of it. Beyonce made music for everybody. So did country singer Sturgill Simpson. Frank Ocean did a song which referenced Trayvon Martin. So did Drive-by Truckers. So did Lady Gaga (a terrible terrible song). Beyonce appeared with Dixie Chicks at the Country Music Awards. People walked out. Doh.

I assumed Beyonce's album would be at the top of most Best Album lists, but those I've seen are reasonably divergent. Near the top of most is Frank Ocean's Blonde, but I'm not having it. With his fine voice, original view and sharp intelligence, people desperately want Frank Ocean to make great music, but he doesn't. Blonde is one long dirge. In the second half there are snatches of Carpenters and Beatles tracks, and they're like coming up for air when you're drowning in sludge. He sings like what he's saying matters, he sings like he's gifting you a melody, but genuine insight and melody are scarce. To judge it, say, as a dreamscape, something to get lost in, or perhaps to judge it as a singer-songwriter album, it falls short. It's no Astral Weeks, it's no Songs in the Key of Life, it's no Blue. It's far too long, it takes a tremendous effort to get anywhere with it.

And like a lot of albums this year, it has indulgent, boring spoken word bits. What is with that? The only effective use of spoken word intermissions I heard this year was on Solange's 'A Seat at the Table' where the various people talking (family, friends, rappers) were woven into the music beautifully. Solange's album may, narrowly, be the second best Knowles album of the year, but it's a cracker, and a real grower. Her voice doesn't soar like her sister's, and when there's rage, it's more gently conveyed, but it's a superb, serious work of consequence, which never bores.

Laura Mvula's The Dreaming Room also has a slightly daft spoken word bit, but I think that's one of the most underrated albums of the year. The level of her accomplishment, the otherworldly brilliance of her voice, seems to be taken for granted in the UK. The column inches she merits have not found her a natural audience yet.

I also loved Michael Kiwanuka's album, which was everything to me that Frank Ocean's album wasn't - warm and rich, something to get lost in, full of soul and melody, unforced insight. It was also bold and expansive musically, beautifully produced. I returned to it several times throughout the year.

I'll quickly run through albums which caused a stir which weren't necessarily personal favourites. Skepta's Konnichiwa won the Mercury, and, you know, it's fine, it's actually rather sweet in places, and Shutdown is a tremendous song, but there was a lot in it which ploughed old ground lyrically. I think it was talked up a little more than it deserved.

Kanye West's The Life of Pablo was a mess. I was a big fan of Yeezus, which had a contained, controlled, punkish fury, a darkness which demanded to be heard (if darkness can be heard). The Life of Pablo was the sound of a man with no sense of judgement left. His Glastonbury set showed that. It could have been awesome, but he made some terrible decisions. I found The Life of Pablo almost unlistenable. 

Not as unlistenable as Drake, the most baffling superstar ever. His most noteworthy songs are loathsome and casually misogynistic, and then it's downhill from there. He featured on Rihanna's album, which I quite liked, but went on a bit, and didn't beg to be listened to over again.

I even listened to the Lady Gaga album a few times which was, at least, not boring. But everything she does is so forced, it's hard to bear. And 'Angel Down', another song which references Trayvon Martin and gun violence, was just the lamest, most meretricious song of the year, the kind of pap that would turn the most bleeding-heart liberal into a raving hawk.

I quite liked the Emeli Sande album, it had a couple of great songs, but it was generally overwrought and a bit of an opportunity missed perhaps. On the other hand, the Christine and the Queens album Chaleur Humaine really showed how to do it, fat-free, slick yet moving, it quietly became one of my favourite albums of the year.

There were several albums by stalwarts which kept my love of Scottish pop alive, the best of which was by Teenage Fanclub - they just do it, they always do it. The severed alliance (severe dalliance) of King Creosote and The Pictish Trail released albums in the same month, each of which touched on their falling out, a fierce, rather sad, internecine dispute which rather belies those monikers which must have seemed such a hoot in more innocent times. King Creosote is one of the great British songwriters. Emma Pollock, Steve Mason and Colin Macintyre of the Mull Historical Society are not far off - melody and imagination come streaming out of each of them.

As for the great English artists - PJ Harvey's album didn't work for me - it was an attempt to say something important, but the lyrics were ho-hum, the message was laid on a bit thick - her voice sounded surprisingly unsure of itself. Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool was my favourite of theirs since OK Computer - I'm not a massive fan, so that's not saying a huge amount, but it was a pretty beautiful piece of work. Sounded a bit more like Coldplay than you'd think, though ...

And the great Americans? Well, of the younger (not that young) ones, I loved the Conor Oberst album Ruminations - a return to form for me after about a decade off it. Clear, sad, meaningful songs, a lyrical gift which remains astounding at times. He still has the capacity to be one of the best, I reckon.
Wilco are the best band in the world, so I love every Wilco album. Each new Wilco album, funnily enough, makes me realise how good the last one was. This one was Schmilco - I listened to the last one, Star Wars, a lot, in the week it came out ... but Schmilco was a low-key treasure itself and I know I'll love it even more in a year or two.
Then there was Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam, alumni of the Walkmen and Vampire Weekend respectively, whose album I Had a Dream That You Were Mine was almost as good as I hoped it would be, but not quite. I do want the Walkmen to get back together, I'm afraid.

case/lang/veirs was one of the most pleasurable albums of the year - three great singers and songwriters - it had a bit of everything, sometimes eerie, sometimes folky, sometimes, sometimes poppy. Jenny Lewis was also in a "supergroup" called Nice as Fuck. It wasn't great.

There were two or three tremendous country records - the Margo Price one didn't quite come good on its early promise, but Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth was brilliant. Drive-By Truckers' American Band was one of my albums of the year, the first time I've really got what they were all about. Proudly southern but right-on, for want of a better word, it felt doubly poignant in a year like this - taking digs at the NRA, the hypocrisy of white America, it was a wolf in sheep's clothing. A nod as well to Jason Isbell (formerly of Drive-By Truckers) - his Something More Than Free came out last year, but I only discovered it this year - it's every bit the equal of his old band.

Right, finally, on to the old dudes. Some year for the old dudes. Iggy Pop's album was critically acclaimed but I haven't listened to it yet, or Neil Young's, sorry. The Paul Simon album Stranger to Stranger is great, actually. He's still innovating, still interesting. It's a clever, sweet, modern record.

I wouldn't usually place Paul Simon above Bob Dylan but this year there was no contest. Ironic that in the year he was honoured like never before for elevating songwriting like no one else, Bobby released his least consequential album ever (and there are few contenders, Christmas in the Heart). Oh great, another album of Frank Sinatra covers, said no one. The first one, Shadows in the Night, was actually rather lovely, and it's not like Fallen Angels is substantially worse, it's just unnecessary. Though, hopefully, my theory, that, just as he rediscovered his mojo with two albums of covers in the early 90s, Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, so will this be a platform for an album of Dylan-penned attempts to enhance the Great American Songbook. Nice theory, let's hope so.

Enough of Dylan. For a while in January, I felt like I'd put my money on the wrong horse. I wondered if Bowie was the larger figure all along. To some, to many, he surely is. Comparisons are pretty invidious. They occupied pretty different spheres in the end. Bowie's end was a masterstroke, in any case. As if planned, though not entirely planned. The last two songs on Blackstar, Dollar Days and I Can't Give Everything Away, just couldn't have been better. I genuinely think it's his best record for 40 years.

And then there's Leonard. That was a blow. I've been listening to him ever since, primarily You Want it Darker, with its lovely closer Treaty. The only thing nagging me is I remember thinking, before he died ... I'm not sure this album is quite as good as the last one. It doesn't matter now, I just think I can't in all honestly judge it one of the best albums of the year.

In the end, there's only one for me. One that stood out far above the distinguished crowd. Cohen and Bowie's albums were about death primarily, while Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree was about grief and loss and love and a bare beauty you very rarely hear.
As the various End of Year lists have come in, seeing Skeleton Tree, on some of them, 15, 21, 23 has had a tragicomic absurdity, as if there is genuinely a field of peers and genuinely 22 albums that are "better" than it. It stands alone, it hardly belongs in these lists.
Nick Cave's always been a master, and he's written deeply powerful, heartrending songs before. In truth, the last few albums were enjoyable and immaculate but left me a little bit cold. There's nothing cold about Skeleton Tree. The genius of it is not just to harness the grief but to give it its head. Maybe unwillingly, Cave lets you in, he emotes, he doesn't stand above it. It's in the voice. He even lets the craft go a little. Just a little, and the album's all the better for it.

The stark beauty is almost unbearable at times. Girl in Amber, the third track, is the one for me, the first moment where the listener struggles for air. "If you want to leave, don't breathe ... a word" He lets neither himself nor the listener off the hook.
There are eight songs on the album, five are utterly beautiful, the other three are utterly compelling. I'm not sure this isn't one of the very greatest albums ever made. The 22nd best album of the year it is not.

So, those are the albums I'm going to write about. Oh, one more, the Monkees album - tremendous. Really.
And these were the other albums I listened to a few times, just so you know. Some of these were good too, some of them were a bit crap.

Singing Saw - Kevin Morby
Distance Inbetween - The Coral
Crab Day - Cate Le Bon
Side Pony - Lake Street Dive
The Colour in Anything - James Blake ... boring
Hopelessness - Anohni ... caught me on an off day
Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul - Dexys ... the irish bits worked
Love You to Death - Tegan and Sara ... ok, too polished now
Why Are You OK - Band of Horses ... rather than being great like you used to be
Patience - The Invisible
The Bride - Bat for Lashes ... good, just never quite grips me all the way through
Night Thoughts - Suede
Freetown Sound - Blood Orange
Light Upon the Lake - Whitney ... liked this
Eyes on the Line - Steve Gunn
Furnaces - Ed Harcourt
No Mind No Money - Beach Baby ... promising
Mangy Love - Cass McCombs
Foreverland - The Divine Comedy ... pretty crap i'm afraid
Trick - Jamie T ... had three fabulous songs near the end, didn't like the rest, hated the single
My Woman - Angel Olsen ... very good
We Move - James Vincent McMorrow
Commontime – Field Music 
Untitled - Kendrick Lamar
Second Love – Emmy the Great  pretty good
Painting With – Animal Collective
Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop - Love Letter to Fire ... a pleasure
Sunflower Bean - Human Ceremony
Steve Gunn - Eyes on the Line
Banks - The Altar
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan - Everything Sacred
Hiss Golden Messenger - Heart Like a Levee
Weyes Blood - Front Row Seat to Earth
Lambchop -FLOTUS ... If only
Dawes - We're All Going to Die ... always fun, but so cheesy
Regina Spektor - Remember Us to Life ... bit tame
Bon Iver - 22 A Million - bit exhausting and unrewarding

And so, my albums of the year

  1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
  2. Beyonce - Lemonade
  3. Christine and the Queens - Chaleur Humaine
  4. David Bowie - Blackstar
  5. Drive-By Truckers - American Band
  6. Laura Mvula - The Dreaming Room
  7. Solange - Seat at the Table
  8. Michael Kiwanuka - Love and Hate
  9. Paul Simon - Stranger to Stranger
  10. Radiohead - A Moon-Shaped Pool
  11. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth
  12. case/lang/veirs - case/lang/veirs
  13. Bright Eyes - Ruminations
  14. The Monkees - Good Times
  15. Leonard Cohen - You Want it Darker
  16. Teenage Fanclub - Here
  17. Wilco - Schmilco
  18. Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop - Love Letter to Fire
  19. Bat for Lashes - The Bride
  20. Angel Olsen - My Woman
And my favourite songs
  1. Girl in Amber - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  2. Dollar Days - David Bowie
  3. Distant Sky - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  4. Freedom - Beyonce
  5. Night 52 - Christine and the Queens
  6. Overcome - Laura Mvula
  7. Hurts - Emeli Sande
  8. Sign of the Times - Jamie T
  9. Treaty - Leonard Cohen
  10. Sea Stories - Sturgill Simpson
  11. Tilted - Christine and the Queens
  12. Build Another Brick - Mull Historical Society
  13. The First Sight - Teenage Fanclub
  14. 1000 Times - Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam
  15. Love and Hate - Michael Kiwanuka
  16. Me and Magdalena - The Monkees
  17. Skeleton Tree - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  18. I Can't Give Everything Away - David Bowie
  19. The Hustle - Lambchop
  20. Happiness - Wilco

Friday, 11 November 2016

2016 - This is what it stopped sounding like

Pure Imagination - Gene Wilder
Fantasy - Earth, Wind and Fire
Wizbit - Paul Daniels
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) - Dead or Alive
Madness - Prince Buster
Can I Kick It? - A Tribe Called Quest
Stand by Me - Muhammad Ali
Wonderful Life - Black
If I Could Only Fly - Merle Haggard
Famous Blue Raincoat - Leonard Cohen
White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
Floral Dance - Terry Wogan
I Could Have Danced All Night - Marni Nixon
Cleaning Ladies Song - The Two Ronnies
The Ballad of Barry and Freda - Victoria Wood
A Day in the Life - The Beatles
Purple Rain - Prince
Take Good Care of My Baby - Bobby Vee
Frankie Teardrop - Suicide
David Bowie - Five Years

Friday, 14 October 2016

In the final end

I'm not going to let Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature go without a little post.

It made me happy. Bob Dylan remains at the centre of everything for me, has been since I was 16, he's the overwhelming reason I'm so obsessive about and such a zealous advocate for popular song, that I approach it the way that I do, he's informed so much of how I think and how I process words. There can be big strong arguments for Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bowie, James Brown, Neil Young, whoever they like, but it's always Dylan for me. And I wasn't even there.

This is also a validation for song. Lyrics are a way that we encounter words, hence its literature. There've been novelists, poets, playwrights, journalists win this prize. Quite right that a songwriter should. These people who go "most lyrics to pop music are nonsense, for example "she loves you, yeah, yeah". See, I told you." There are still a surprising number of them. They're the worst people.

If any of them, Roth or Murakami or Margaret Atwood or any other writer the green chorus suggests is "better" than him just by virtue of writing novels, could make words meet music like he could, I'd be stunned.

Plenty have tried - Simon Armitage and Salman Rushdie and others. Rushdie's not bleating about lyric writing being a lesser art form.

I've read Homer in Greek and Virgil in Latin, I've read Shakespeare and Faulkner, Frantzen and Woolf, Camus and Heaney. I think Bob Dylan's better. I don't just like him better. I think he's better. There.

And also, I bet Bob Dylan's inspired more people to be writers than pretty much anyone else in the last 50 years.

He'll probably turn it down or some stupid shit. No, actually, I don't think he will. My guess is that nothing's ever made him happier. I remember how genuinely thrilled he said he was to get good reviews for his book.

And also ... read this fabulous article about Leonard Cohen ...
and read Dylan's contribution halfway down to see how much he really cares about stuff that he likes.

And also, if you really want to know if Dylan winning the Nobel Prize is a good thing, compare these two articles, the first by the same author as the above, David Remnick. He thinks it's good

And, this now, by this guy (I feel a little cruel to pick him out, but really)
He doesn't think it's a good thing. But ... bless ...

Sunday, 11 September 2016

I was a television version ...

Perhaps a less well known one, this.

"I was a television version of a person with a broken heart"

It's from The National song, Pink Rabbits. The National are a great band, with great drumming, great arrangements, rock anthemics, and have really notable lyrics. Crafted, but also, occasionally, shocking, funny, moving  etc

One that caught the attention was in the song 'Conversation 16' - "I was afraid that I'd eat your brains, 'cos I'm evil" Then there was "I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders". I love that one. That's from Mr November, a pretty deranged piece of rock desperation.

Pink Rabbits is different. It's a swoon, a ballad, more of a pop song almost. Matt Berninger sings it fairly high up in his baritone range. It's one of the three songs from their most recent album 'Trouble Will Find Me', that I really love.

What do I love about this line so much? Well, how it sounds, for starters. The play on words is obvious, the slightly-off alliterations and internal rhyme, I love the confidence of how much is packed into the line.

It falls within this

You didn't see me I was falling apart
I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park
You didn't see me I was falling apart
I was a television version of a person with a broken heart

So you can see, he's had to rush through 4 more syllables than in the comparable line, yet it all sounds perfect.
I also like the two metaphors juxtaposed. The first one doesn't, as such, work for me. Or rather, it's opaque. "I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park". Am I supposed to get how that indicates falling apart? Perhaps not, so let's make it clearer. "I was a television version of a person with a broken heart" Right, get it - a lovely, knowing, self-mocking image of a man, unshaven, drinking all day, crying and moaning and looking woebegone - a television version of a person with a broken heart.

And it's this great descending phrase, it reminds me of the themes to sad children's TV shows of my youth - perhaps that's why I find it so apt. I've only just thought of that. I can't believe that's on purpose, but maybe it is.

Also, you know, quite often, people with broken hearts are television versions, that's the weird thing, isn't it. Grief can look like a cliche, so can despair. I remember seeing this guy walking through Clapham once crying and shouting "why me? Aaah ... why me?" and one part of me thought "poor guy" and the other thought "dude, find a new scriptwriter ..."

Anyway, here's the song

Pink Rabbits

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

If it snows ...

In my opinion, this blog has been its most successful (and certainly most enjoyable to write) when I've started at a specific song, then been able to examine it at length, to venture into pop culture in general, throw in a bit of autobiographical detail, and come back to where I started. That feels like proper writing, and what a music blog should be all about.

I also note that I've made lists of countless things and written about countless things, but have never been so bold to focus, as such, on "lyrics". I've never told you my favourite lyrics. I don't really think I have favourite lyrics, as such, and I'm very cautious about ever divorcing the words from the song. The song is the whole thing, it's always unwise to remove the words from their context. We all know that the person who starts reciting you their favourite lyrics like they're the Book of Revelation is a person to avoid most strenuously.

But ... of course ... I can't avoid being the twat forever.

All I'm going to do, perhaps as an ongoing strand, perhaps not, is give a line I love from a song I love and see if I can write around it, think about it and see what it is I love so much.

I'll avoid tapping into the spirit of my student self and going too deep into literary criticism, but I'm sure words like assonance will pop up every now and then.

"And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain"

This is a good place to start, eh?

This line, as you probably know, comes from the second verse of 'Wichita Lineman', written by Jimmy Webb, sung by Glen Campbell. I fucking love this line. I love the way it sounds, for starters, the easy, oddly gentle alliteration, perhaps the hissing of the wire, though it doesn't have to be, the long, relatively complex unit of sense, sung just at the edge of where Campbell's glorious voice still sounds comfortable. He sings it like he means it, it sits in the verse like it's the most important thing he can think of.

But it's not, of course.

The line that follows this one, almost as a sigh, is the most famous line in the song - "And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time".
This enormously romantic and beautiful line is oft-repeated and quoted. But would it be such a wonderful, beautiful line, if, as might make sense, it had been preceded by something like ...

"Baby, I'm trying to compare how much I need you and how much I want you,
and also how long I'm going to want you for ..."

Thanks, I came up with that myself.

No, it's the juxtaposition that makes the magic.
"If it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain," the stoical, hard-working man thought to himself, focusing, for a time, on the concerns of his job. But his loneliness and longing inevitably burst through the veneer his mind had constructed. "And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time".

There are so few lines in this song, which tell so much, just the perfectly concise biography of an American man, his life, his character and all his concerns.

Wichita Lineman

There are other things I love about this song - the fact it's a country song at heart, but also a chamber-pop song - it's really one of the cornerstones of all-American music.

I haven't much else to say about it, certainly nothing autobiographical, it doesn't take me back to my days as a binman in Winchester. But it's a glorious moment in a glorious song, and if I ever have the opportunity to use the phrase "If it snows, that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain" appropriately, by golly, I will!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Is it too early to say I wasn't a massive Prince fan?

The tributes are still flowing in, but a month has passed, so I thought I might, tentatively, politely, say, you know, Prince, not a massive fan, to be honest.

I know how some people felt when Bowie died. Of course, people die all the time who we're not fans of, but these two combined such universal acclaim with popularity and iconic coolness, they meant so  very much, genuinely, to so very many people, that I would really have felt like a bit of a dick either saying I wasn't a massive Prince fan or pretending I did... until now ...

I thought about Prince's music a lot when he died. I wondered what my favourite song was. But, really, I had nothing. For a while, I thought I liked the early 90s single Morning Papers, but not really. Raspberry Beret is pretty ok, I like the first verse, that's for sure. "boss was  Mr McGee". I like that.

But, really, that's about it. 1999, Sign of the Times, Little Red Corvette, Purple Rain etc they always left me cold. I did try. I bought his two most famous albums and a greatest hits. I knew I was missing something. Prince wasn't just popular while being someone a music snob could look down on, he was universally revered by musicians and hipsters, funk fans and rock fans. I had to be missing something.

I could see he was stunningly talented, I could see he was a star, I could see he could write a pop song with a hook, but I just didn't like those songs. I couldn't see why people said he wrote great lyrics. All those acclaimed line - "Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life" "Dig, if you will, the picture ..." "a big disease with a small name" ..."I was dreaming while I wrote this, forgive me if it goes too fast ...", to me they were naff, meaningless, portentous, show-offy. Sorry.

It was probably, I suppose, the voice more than the songs. I like Nothing Compares 2 U and Manic Monday, though not that much. Again, it's the way lots of people feel about Bob Dylan.

But I was never moved by a Prince song. Never, never felt they were soul songs. I never wanted to sit and mope listening to Prince, never wanted to think, never wanted to work, to write, to run or to dance. I could take bathetic pleasure in comparing him to small-scale artists whose songs I prefer. Prince, he's ok, but he's no Bluetones, he's ok but he's no Brendan Benson, he's ok but he's no Chaka Demus and Pliers.

I'm already being meaner-spirited than I intended to be. It's just, there's no-anti Prince movement. Everyone seems to love him. Surely I'm not the only one who just doesn't think those songs set off and take flight like you hope they will? Am I really the one who's only seeing the crescent? (He's ok, but he's no Waterboys ...)

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

De Niro

I've been meaning to write about Robert De Niro in depth for years, but couldn't decide where to place it, what to focus on.

Alongside Bob Dylan, this other Bobby D was my main American cultural icon in my late teens and early 20s. Dylan, since the mid-90s, has had a significant late career burst of critically acclaimed work. De Niro, it goes without saying, hasn't.

He is still revered but it is taken as read that he has lost it, that his work since the very early 90s is insignificant. I'm not here to claim that is a completely false impression.

Where will I start? I have a lot of things to say about, and emotions to attach to Robert De Niro.

I think a series of vignettes are better than an attempt to form a central thesis,

I'll start with recent times.

1. On a bored Sunday afternoon, we made the mistake of watching The Intern, a wretched 2015 "comedy" starring De Niro and Anne Hathaway. Despite reasonably good credentials, I found pretty much everything about it boring and painful - the script, the story, the central idea, nearly all the acting. But De Niro is great. Unflashy, endearing, funny, utterly human. Hathaway is hard to watch, as are the main support actors. So I wonder if De Niro is now quite tricky to act opposite because he's such a legend, it's intimidating. His acting doesn't appear showy or ungenerous, far from it. He seems to leave plenty of space on screen for everyone else. But I wonder if his very presence unbalances a lot of the films he's in.

2. De Niro's not as Italian as everyone thinks. Layman's impression of him (and indeed his own) concentrate on that wiseguy schtick.  But he's only a quarter-Italian, if that. His father was the child of an Italian-American father and an Irish-American mother. His mother was American, but of Irish/Dutch/German/English ancestry. And not all his greatest roles are Italian, far from it.
Jake Le Motta, Johnny Civello and Vito Corleone are
Travis Bickle, Michael Vronsky, Rupert Pupkin, Noodles Aaronson, Jimmy the Gent Conway, Ace Rothstein etc are not
I always find it surprising too, that both his parents were artists (his father a pretty renowned one) and bohemians. That's not really the vibe he gives off.

3. Some actors are just as good, if not better, as they get older. The ones that, to paraphrase Laurence Olivier, just act. But I suppose De Niro's greatest performances were so dependent on hard physical labour, months of preparation and exertion, that, like a great sportsman, it's inevitable that he's become capable of a little less. It would be physically impossible for him to put in a performance like in Raging Bull or Taxi Driver now. It would be like Usain Bolt still running the 100m in 10 seconds when he's 70.

4. The famous inarticulacy. How awkward he is when he's interviewed. How he struggles for words. Scorsese and others joke that it's not just a public, put-on thing.  He's just not much of a talker.
Then look at some of those performances. In particular look at his first famous scene, the first time he walks into the bar in Mean Streets, probably my very favourite scene in film history, this fast-talking wise guy, this joke machine, he's making it up, improvising. You can't believe it's the same person. D'oh, that's acting.

5. The sweetness. What's my favourite De Niro performance? I love the crazies, the psychos, the oddballs, the monsters, but my favourite is the one where he plays a straight, true heroic character, in The Deer Hunter - his acting with Meryl Streep in this is fabulous. Sure he's crazy in this too, but he's so still sometimes, and so sad. There are quite a few very fine performances where he plays someone very ordinary.

6. What's wrong with comedy? OK, I'm not saying that the last 20 years are a patch on the previous 20, but why is the fact that he became a genuinely funny mainstream comedy star so sneered upon? Analyze This and Meet the Parents are actually funny. Genuinely funny. It's called range.

7. I still think that 70s run is simply the best there is. I don't like gangster films anymore, I'm tired of them. I don't necessarily like films that are complex studies of ugly masculinity, but Mean Streets, Godfather II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, Once Upon a Time in America.  That's without equal as a run of film performances by an actor.

8. As he's got older, his face has become more set and I think that's a bit of a hindrance. When he was younger, it was more elasticm more surprising, now, well, it's just Robert De Niro's face, it couldn't be anything else.

9. It is still surprising to me how few good films he's in these days. Surely he could position himself to work with more top directors to pretty much guarantee a degree of acclaim. David O Russell he works with now. There's Scorsese obviously, and one more on the way from them, but Tarantino only once, no Coens, no Andersons, no Inarritu or Del Toro etc Don't they want him in their films? Doesn't he want to be in them?

10. OK, I'll finish with a list. Bypassing the obvious, here are 10 Very Decent De Niro films which aren't seen as classics, but are definitely enjoyable
Wag the Dog
Meet the Parents
Jackie Brown
A Bronx Tale
Angel Heart
True Confessions
and (though almost a classic) Midnight Run

Friday, 29 April 2016

Five Films From ...



Judged on how much a film is worth watching if you are a fan of this actor (so not just "is their performance good?" or "is it a good film?" but a bit of a combination of the two ...). Glaring omissions are most likely to, of course, be films I haven't seen rather than fervent opinions.

It won't surprise you to know that when I was a teenager I went through the Halliwell's Film Guide with a pen and marked films starring lots of different actors to see a) who was in the most films and b) who was in the most highly rated films. So this is all second nature to me.

Robert De Niro

Mean Streets
Taxi Driver
Raging Bull
The Deer Hunter
Midnight Run

Julia Roberts

Pretty Woman
Charlie Wilson's War
Notting Hill
Erin Brockovich
My Best Friend's Wedding

Alec Guinness

Lavender Hill Mob
The Ladykillers
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Tunes of Glory
Star Wars

Audrey Hepburn

Roman Holiday
My Fair Lady
Breakfast at Tiffany's

Denzel Washington

Training Day
Cry Freedom
Crimson Tide

Julie Christie

Dr Zhivago
Don't Look Now
Far From the Madding Crowd
The Go-Between

Cate Blanchett

Blue Jasmine
I'm Not There
The Aviator

John Goodman

The Big Lebowski
Barton Fink
The Big Easy
Inside Llewyn Davis

Marion Cotillard

La Vie en Rose
Rust and Bone
Two Days, One Night
Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson

The Royal Tenenbaums
Midnight in Paris
Meet the Parents
The Darjeeling Limited
Inhererent Vice

Kevin Costner

No Way Out
Bull Durham
Tin Cup
The Untouchables

Michelle Williams

Brokeback Mountain
Synecdoche, New York
Blue Valentine
My Week With Marilyn
Shutter Island

Holly Hunter

Broadcast News
Raising Arizona
The Piano
A Life Less Ordinary
O Brother, Where Art Thou

Michael Douglas

The Game
Wonder Boys
Wall Street
Falling Down

Emma Thompson

Howard's End
The Remains of the Day
The Tall Guy
In the Name of the Father
Saving Mr Banks

Humphrey Bogart

The Maltese Falcon
The Big Sleep
To Have and Have Not
Key Largo

Katharine Hepburn

Bringing Up Baby
The Philadelphia Story
The African Queen
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
On Golden Pond

Sigourney Weaver

Working Girl
The Ice Storm
Be Kind Rewind

Benicio Del Toro

The Usual Suspects
Sin City
The Pledge
Inherent Vice

Kevin Bacon

Mystic Rover
The Woodsman
Murder in the First

Amy Adams

The Fighter
The Master
American Hustle

Kristin Scott Thomas

I've Loved You So Long
Gosford Park
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Tell No one
The English Patient

John Cusack

Love and Mercy
Grosse Point Blank
High Fidelity
Say Anything ...
Con Air

Joan Cusack

School of Rock
Grosse Point Blank
Working Girl
Runaway Bride
Say Anything ...

Luis Guzman

Carlito's Way
Boogie Nights
Punch Drunk Love

Emily Watson

The Boxer
Red Dragon
Punch-Drunk Love
Gosford Park

Ewan McGregor

Shallow Grave
Young Adam
A Life Less Ordinary
Big Fish

Jake Gyllenhaal

Donnie Darko
Source Code
Brokeback Mountain

Tilda Swinton

Young Adam
Broken Flowers
Burn After Reading
Michael Clayton
We Need to Talk about Kevin

Keanu Reeves

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
The Matrix

Whoopi Goldberg

Sister Act
Made in America
The Color Purple
The Player

Frances McDormand

Blood Simple
Short Cuts
Almost Famous
Moonrise Kingdom

Forest Whitaker

The Last King of Scotland
Ghost Dog
Good Morning, Vietnam

Christopher Walken

Catch Me if You Can
The Deer Hunter
True Romance
A View to a Kill
Batman Returns

Sally Hawkins

Blue Jasmine
Made in Dagenham

Susan Sarandon

Thelma and Louise
Dead Man Walking
Bull Durham

Christian Slater

Pump Up the Volume
Broken Arrow
True Romance
Untamed Heart

Marlon Brando

On the Waterfront
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Godfather
Last Tango in Paris

Dianne Wiest

Hannah and Her Sisters
The Purple Rose of Cairo
A Guide to Recognising Your Saints

Michael Cera

Youth in Revolt
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Julianne Moore

The Kids are All Right
Short Cuts
Far From Heaven
The Hours
The Big Lebowski

Nicolas Cage

Leaving Las Vegas
Raising Arizona
Con Air
Wild at Heart

Naomi Watts

Mulholland Drive
While We're Young
King Kong
Eastern Promises

Joseph Cotten

Citizen Kane
Shadow of a Doubt
The Third Man
Duel in the Sun

Lawrence Fishburne

Boyz N The Hood
Apocalypse Now
What's Love Got To Do With It?
The Matrix
The Color Purple

Faye Dunaway

Bonnie and Clyde
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Three Musketeers
The Towering Inferno

Helen Mirren

The Long Good Friday
The Queen
Gosford Park
State of Play

Grace Kelly

High Noon
Dial M for Murder
High Society
To Catch a Thief
Rear Window

Annette Bening

The Grifters
The Kids Are All Right
American Beauty
The American President
Regarding Henry

Emilio Estevez

The Outsiders
St Elmo's Fire
The Breakfast Club
Young Guns

John Wayne

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
Rio Bravo
The Searchers
True Grit

I could go on and on. I will go on and on. But I'll leave a little space for now ...

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Furies with their Voices

Skipping merrily from tragedy to tragedy, one of the more renowned myths of recent rock'n'roll is that which has built up about the Buckleys. But I've written enough specifically about them, I think, and will just use Jeff Buckley as a starting point to talk about one of music's undersung.

The undersung, the undercelebrated polymaths who keep on popping up on other people's tales but deserve to be championed in their own right - there are many books to be written about them, certainly several blog posts if I can concentrate on putting a list together.

Jeff Buckley's girlfriend was called Joan Wasser - as a solo artist, she's known, rather archly, as Joan As Police Woman. As well as the Buckley association, she's played violin for the likes of Antony and the Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed. And various others. A session musician and a general presence.

There've been four full fledged solo records, called Real Life, To Survive, The Deep Field and The Classic. Lately, I've been making playlists of individual artists to listen to through the days, and after the usual suspects, she struck me with someone with enough good songs to make a good playlist, then it struck me that really, most of those good songs were on that first album, Real Life, then it struck me that that album was really a bit superb - a little underappreciated.

Its pace is relaxed but there are moments of celebration. It's a highly romantic album - her voice is languorous but clear and hopeful. There are no weak moments - the most well known song may be 'Eternal Flame', which may well be a tribute to, or almost a separation from, the legacy of Buckley - it even has little echoes of the song 'Grace'.

Eternal Flame

 There's a great duet with Antony (now Anohni) called 'I Defy'. It's really as subtle and complete an album as you'll hear.

There are good songs on her other albums, too, but that's the one that grabbed me. I remember seeing her, late afternoon, a festival, a compelling performer - there was a song from her (then) new album called 'Furious' which I remember taking as a direct personal challenge.


She said "This song asks, Are you not furious?" It's a protest song but also an exhortation. At the time (i think it was 2007) I almost took offence. No, I'm not furious, I'm ambivalent, I'm cautious, things could be worse ... but I was wrong, that was the time to be furious and now so much impotent fury may be too late ... it's such a striking song because it's out of keeping with her repertoire. Spot on. Now I regret any time I was self-satisfied and not furious. Fury may be the only thing that can save things now.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Sunday Afternoon in the Dublin Castle with Amy

Having written about Tragedy in general, I realise, almost guiltily, that there's plenty of specific material for me to write about in the countless tragedies of rock'n'roll.

So, I'm going to write about Amy Winehouse, and I'm going to do so in a way which might almost be exploitative, while also containing some fairly blatant virtue-signifying. I'm turning into one of the cunts, I'm quite sure.

I watched the film, 'Amy'. I wasn't sure about watching it, for reasons that will become clear, but I watched it, and it was, naturally, a fine piece of work.

There was a lot to be uneasy about, but I'm not sure I was uneasy about what I was supposed to be uneasy about. The surrounding publicity material from the director and various interested journalists broadly suggested that the film, in harrowing detail, showed us how we were all a little complicit in this girl's tragedy, that we watched fascinated as she fell apart.

Hell, no, I said to myself, I am not complicit. Speak for yourselves.

Here's my Amy Winehouse story. It's not a great one but it serves my purpose.

Persuaded by critical gushing, I'd bought 'Frank', the debut album by someone being described as a prodigious vocal and lyrical talent. I found it not to be so. I found it one of my least favourite albums for a long time - annoying, crass, show-offy in both sound and words. Amy Winehouse would later not think too highly of it herself, of course.

My friend Alex and I, in 2006, had, I think, been to see 'The Departed' at the cinema in Camden around Sunday lunchtime, and then shuffled off to the nearest pub, which happened to be the famous Dublin Castle. We settled over our pints in the corner, a bit away from the pool table.

There were various indie tourists, looking for the scene in there, desperate in Coldplay and Razorlight t-shirts. Anyway, the scene did arrive. Or rather, a spectacularly annoying girl arrived with a dapper, somewhat bashful gent in tow, and proceeded to dominate the pub for the next couple of hours.

We sat, chest tightened, as she flounced and swore and threatened and posed and shouted, praying she wouldn't look at us, disturb us, speak to us, looking deep into our pints and trying to talk about anything else.

I knew she was Amy Winehouse, Alex didn't. He knew the name Amy Winehouse, but Amy Winehouse wasn't yet wholly known to look like this and be like this. To place this in time - 'Rehab' was already on the radio, but 'Back to Black' had not come out yet. She wasn't yet the most famous fuck-up in Britain, nor the most enormous musical success. But it was just about to happen. She had a classic single on the radio and she had the look and she had the exhibitionism.

This bashful gent, putting two and two together retrospectively, was not the notorious Blake Fielder-Civil, but the inbetween boyfriend who might have brought a bit more normality back into her life.

That's it. We left her to it after a couple of pints, I remember Alex saying "gosh, she was annoying", me going "that was Amy Winehouse", and him going "ah, right".That's my Amy Winehouse story.  It serves my purpose of telling you that I was not complicit. Because I averted my eyes and wished she'd go away.

I took that attitude to her songs, too. To me, she remained the hypejob of 'Frank' and the annoying girl in the pub. So I registered that, in turn, 'Rehab', 'You Know I'm No Good', 'Back to Black', 'Tears Dry On Their Own' and 'Lose is a Losing Game' were fabulous singles. However, despite these anomalies, I remained adamant that the album 'Back to Black' would not be for me. I was not an Amy Winehouse fan. Her fame annoyed me. Her acclaim and success annoyed me.

She was unavoidable to an extent. This was the era of London Lite. Free London papers every day with Amy Winehouse on the cover, not in a good way. I couldn't stay entirely out of her tragedy, though I think I did try. I saw her singing on telly, often very badly, and told myself that I was right, that those great songs, beautifully sung, were exceptions, and that Amy Winehouse was no great talent.

Maybe, by some small chance, I'm right. Either way, that one album, which I did eventually get round to listening to in its entirety, is, by hook or by crook, obviously, a truly great album. And her death was a tragedy, a modern, hideous tragedy. It happened the same weekend as the Anders Breivik incident in Norway, as grave a weekend of horror, outrage, catastrophe and tragedy as can be.

OK, how do I round this off? By making it all about myself, of course. I find myself, these days, constantly, I mean constantly, haunted by snippets of my own verse from the long period of my life when I wrote prolifically, splenetically, badly, privately, internally. Lines, segments, couplets, burst into my brain for every occasion. Usually unwelcome. Throughout those books and books,  there is almost nothing I'm wholly proud of, but the painful aspect is those half-formed ideas which sometimes hint at something that could have been something, somewhere I could have gone if I'd followed it up, some hint that I was a person with some ideas who didn't know how to implement them.

When I watched 'Amy' and saw the sections where the paparazzi surrounded her, an attack on the cinemagoer as a smidgen of the extent to which it must have been a horrific attack on her dizzied, addled senses as an everyday reality, I felt a pang of pride.

Because I wrote this in either 2005, 2006 or 2007 (it took me ages and ages to find it today - usually I can place my words fairly accurately, but in this case it could have been anywhere in a 6 or 7 year period, yet I still remembered the first four lines). I think I wrote it in reaction to some story about Britney Spears, rather than Amy Winehouse. It's a fragment of a nothing, but I felt proud of myself that I at least had this thought. And a little disgusted with myself at how I fail to live by this thought now.

Sometimes it's kinder not to care
as the cameras blare and flash
Indifference is respect -
to disregard the crash.
It's kinder not to care about
every last ebbing ideal
Not to feel a thing
if you don't know what to feel.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Rock'n'Roll, the Theatre of Tragedy

Two of the three great megastars of the 1980s, all born in 1958, are now dead - Michael Jackson and Prince, with just Madonna surviving.  Indeed, if there were four megastars of the 80s, then three are dead, if you add Whitney Houston to that. It seems unfathomable.

Rock'n'Roll is not good for the health. Everyone knows that. Here's some study from almost a decade ago, and it feels like it's got even worse since then

The older it grows, and the more of its exponents move into middle or old age (or don't!), we see that it's not just the so-called Curse of 27, it's not just the very young ones who leave a beautiful corpse you have to look out for. There are so very many reasons why rock stars die young, or younger than average.

They die because they live hard and don't stop living hard, they die because they have to travel more than most people, they died because they're artists and can't cope with life, they die because mad fans or gang members shoot them,  they die because everyone gives them everything and  everything is too much, they die because everyone gives them everything then takes it away just as quickly. They die because they're addicted to the work and need to keep working, they die because people exploit them, they die because they think its their job to die, they die tragically because Rock'n'Roll is the modern theatre of Tragedy.

There's Tragedy and there's Death. Most deaths aren't Tragic. There's tragedy which is different from disaster, different from catastrophe, different from horror. Tragedy is the tale of an individual's life. Those other things might be "worse" if you measure death in terms of numbers and impact on the world, but they're different and they're not tragic.

Rock'n'Roll is, above all, the stuff of tragedy. Of tragic flaws, of predetermined downfalls, of people almost pulling through but giving in to their worst impulses, of pride and hubris, of families and virtual families rent asunder by jealousies, of generational sins handed on, of doom and woe, of grandstanding ludicrousness, of choruses looking on, passing judgement, of grand gestures and grand failures.

Tragedy hangs over nearly all the major players. Seriously, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane, the Who, Led Zeppelin, The Byrds, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Mamas and Papas, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Band, The Beach Boys, Bee Gees (when the feeling's gone), The Doors (and you can't go on), New York Dolls, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Queen, Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Clash (perhaps not strictly tragedy in this case, though it was the death that saddened me the most), Nirvana, Manics, Tupac, Amy Winehouse etc not to mentions the 100s of Nick Drakes and Jeff Buckleys, Sandy Dennys and Janis Joplins, Judee Sills and Gram Parsons, who might not be described as major players, but are still magnificent talents defined by tragedy. And Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and, now, Prince. A tragedy it wasn't easy to see coming, like some of them are, but, when the dust settles, likely to be a tragedy nevertheless.

I read a book a while ago called I'm a Man, by Ruth Padel, about the iconography of rock'n'roll being similar to iconography of Greek myth. I read it with a certain pinch of salt but I've been persuaded over time. In 'Almost Famous', rock stars are described as "golden gods", but, more precisely, they're not Gods, they're heroes, tragic heroes who do battles with the Gods and lose. Lemmy, they said, he's made of steel, he's fearless, he's immortal ... but he's not immortal, is he? Mortality wins, it bypasses all their illusions.

Is it more prosaic? More medical? Should we take the romance and just talk about people with access to somewhat self-destructive lifestyles? Sure, but there is more to it than that, more that dooms them. Rock stars, if they want to stay rock stars, have no way out, they need to stay young, they need to keep touring, they need to prop themselves up with lies and painkillers.

Sure, there are survivors - Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, right from the start. Dylan's still going, stuck on the treadmill like Sisyphus - the shock of an early death eluded him a couple of times, though it took so many of those around him. The great rock critic Greil Marcus, has described the book Small Town Talk, by Barney Hoskyns, as the most depressing book on rock'n'roll he's every read (I've just bought it, so don't know yet), with its tales of drugs,  dark doings and death seeping through the apparent idyll of Woodstock in the late 60s, 70s and beyond. Somewhere an early grave became the norm.

So, what of this concert they're announcing, this one-off festival with Dylan, McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters, The Stones and The Who all playing over the same weekend? Sure, a money-making exercise, but probably born of the realization that there'll never be another opportunity to bring this mythical generation together again. They should called the concert 'What's Left ...'

If you love rock'n'roll, really love it, this is hard to take. I ask myself why it is I love rock'n'roll and boxing so much, two such self-destructive industries with ugliness pulsing through them. Are there vicarious thrills at the heart of my ardour, a secret longing admiration and longing for destruction? Not really. It's not even the "rock'n'roll" aspects of rock'n'roll I love (Lemmy and Keith Moon are no heroes of mine) nor the truly brutal, barbaric side of boxing. Give me a hit-and-don't-get-hit slickster any day of the week. I'm thrilled by longevity and consistency, rare attributes in rock'n'roll.

Is it worth it? Is anything worth it for one kid who dies or is forever damaged in the ring? All the premature deaths and families ruined by rock'n'roll? I feel like saying yes, but really, who can say ... it doesn't even really matter. It's of the essence of rock'n'roll, this tragedy. It's there in Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, its forebears. It goes deeper than the rock'n'roll cliches, deeper than bare statistics.

Of course, there are more cynical, less classical ways of looking at it. Here's one. No other business puts less importance on its talent staying alive. Death is bad for almost every business, be it film, be it sport, or any less glamorous pursuit. In rock'n'roll, if you're staying active and staying successful, then you're still worth something. If you're not doing that, well, then, death is rather a shot in the arm for your career. As a business, it's beyond reform. As a lifestyle, it's a tragedy.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

The king and queen

I wrote this a few months ago, inspired by a ghost of a rumour of a story while parsing the nether regions of the net for tidbits.

I don't know why I loaded it so heavily with nonsense-rhyme, but once I started I couldn't stop


The fighter-writer’s laying on
 a million dollar bang and bash
in flash cache past the country clubs
Out on the wildest woody slope,
The painter-waiter fired a man
And hired a van to stack and stash
The stars whose cars some schlub
Would wash and crash for pills and soap.

The landlocked-dandy hawked his Hals
For board and bread aboard the bus
And shook his easy eyes’ surprise
To see on seats back left, mid right
The iron-siren soused with scowls
Averted from the fluff and fuss
Afforded her marauder-fraud
Folk-joker snoring in plain sight.

“Hey Moany Joany!” sneered the wisp
His beard a weird gypsy eclipse
“Hey Bitchy Mitch, how’ bout a song
To light the night bright blue, dame Joan,
A singalong, perhaps,” he rasped,
“A chorus ‘cross your bitter lips?
That ‘taxi’ track lacks class of course
But is at least, a little known.”

She stored her horde of howls and stings
For years beyond this tawdry trap.
‘He’ll have his fun, this unwashed imp
This limp-lord tramp of New York tricks,
I’ll bite back bright, my latent hate
Will staunch his aged arid tap,
For now, my frown will own this van,
This sinning stone can stick his sticks.’

The ill-matched batch of cult adults
Chugged cheerless through the towering maze
Till slowly Joni’s journey turned
To gentler greener sounds and sights.
The driver dreamer looked away
As hay was made amidst the haze
Of haves and has-been beatnik hicks
Now blinded by the city lights.

The full-up fun bus pulled up airless -
Careless careerists collapsed to ground
To see the scene of casual carnage
The great create when loose to play.
The fightwright held sure court on sport
Relating Zaire’s frightening sound
“The angry, hungry, jungle rumbled
To chants of Ali Bomaye.”

The tireless diarist shrunk back shrewdly,
Eavesdropped on the schmooze of pop kids,
Circus jerk-offs hawking showreels,
Deal sharks apt to be impressed less.
Downtown upstate upstart drop outs
Turn up tuned in, soon doubts set in,
Slick songs sicken sixties hipsters
“Turn down this cheap tin can synth mess.”

The auteur turncoats skulk and snap
The scene into a deep, dark farce
A wistful waltz time overlaid
 To frame the failures of the age,
Shaping squares round eastern faces
Wondering which west face to cast.
Thunder rolls in, wonder bails out,
Leading players vacate the stage.

The troupe regrouped relieved rolls back
To wherever they all came from.
“No fireworks” said the vagabond,
“No fireworks” she, for once, agreed.
Those were the last words that they spoke,
The one thing they agreed upon,
A shared assent no record kept
And neither would again concede.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Recent Rankings of Things and Things

I'm going to do something blunt and dull, but still quite fun. I'm just going to give a score out of 10 to every film of recent years and album of recent years I can remember seeing or listening to. What's more valuable than reducing two years of your own experience and several years of many people's creative endeavour to a series of arbitrary numbers?

Going back to the start of 2014 ...


Mostly what I've seen at the cinema, a few at home. I might have missed a few of the latter ...

The Wolf of Wall Street 7
Begin Again 7
Pompeii 3
Pride 8
Locke 7
Boyhood 9
Edge of Tomorrow 8
12 Years a Slave 8
Inside Llewyn Davis 9
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 4
Nebraska 8
American Hustle 7
August: Osage County 4
Dallas Buyers Club 8
Her 8
The Grand Budapest Hotel 9
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 8
20,000 Days on Earth 8
Gone Girl 5
’71 7
Nightcrawler 8
Mr Turner 6
Interstellar 6
Cold in July 6
The Drop 7
The Imitation Game 7
St Vincent 7
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies 5
Paddington 7
The Monuments Men 5
Under the Skin 7
Birdman 8
The Theory of Everything 9
2 Days, 1 Night 9
Foxcatcher 9
Whiplash 8
Wild 8
A Most Violent Year 8
Inherent Vice 7
American Sniper 6
Selma 8
Into the Woods 6
Far from the Madding Crowd 6
Mr Holmes 6
Amy 6
While We’re Young 7
Southpaw 5
X+Y 6
Mad Max: Fury Road 7
Man Up 5
Legend 6
Sicario 9
Suffragette 6
Jurassic World 6
Spectre 5
Brooklyn 7
Black Mass 6
Carol 9
Bridge of Spies 7
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 8
Trainwreck 7
Mistress America 7
Slow West 8
Diary of a Teenage Girl 5
Love and Mercy 8
The Lobster 8
Creed 7
The Big Short 8
Spotlight 8
The Revenant 5
Hail, Caesar! 6
The Program 4
The Intern 2
Guardians of the Galaxy  7
The Lego Movie 6
The Fault in our Stars 6
Ex Machina 8
Inside Out 7
The Martian 8
Joy 6
Girlhood 7
Steve Jobs 7
Hell or High Water 8
Supersonic 6
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 7
Paterson 7
Captain Fantastic 7
Swallows and Amazons 5
I, Daniel Blake 7
God Help the Girl 5
Four Lions 8
Room 7
La La Land 9
Everybody Wants Some!! 6


Every Open Eye - Chvrches           7
Have You in My Wilderness - Julia Holter               7
What Went Down - Foals              7
Benjamin Clementine – At Least for Now               7
American Interior – Gruff Rhys   8
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance - Belle and Sebastian  5
Shedding Skin - Ghostpoet           5
Return to the Moon - El Vy           5
Apocalypse, Girl - Jenny Hval       5
Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams           6
Sukierae - Tweedy           6
Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit - Courtney Barnett            7
Star Wars - Wilco              7
St Vincent – St Vincent  8
From Scotland with Love – King Creosote              8
Stay Gold – First Aid Kit  7
Crush Songs – Karen O   2
Divers - Joanna Newsom              8
Burn Your Fire For No Witness – Angel Olsen       5
This is my Hand – My Brightest Diamond               5
Black Hours – Hamilton Leithauser           6
Lost in the Dream – The War on Drugs    6
If I Was - The Staves        8
Kablammo! - Ash              8
The Race for Space - Public Service Broadcasting                8
Carrie and Lowell - Sufjan Stevens            9
Into the Lime – The New Mendicants      3
Universal Themes - Sun Kil Moon              3
The Classic – Joan as Police Woman         4
Paul Weller – Saturns Pattern     7
In Colour - Jamie xx         7
Primrose Green - Ryley Walker   6
LP1 – FKA Twigs                8
Are We There – Sharon Van Etten             8
Small Town Heroes – Hurray for the Riff-Raff       8
Bleeds - Roots Manuva  7
Benji – Sun Kil Moon       8
Night Time, My Time – Sky Ferreira          6
I Love you, Honeybear - Father John Misty            7
New Basement Tapes – Costello, James, Goldsmith, Giddens, Mumford  7
Fresh Blood - Matthew E White  6
Short Movie - Laura Marling        6
One Breath – Anna Calvi                4
Divide and Exit – Sleaford Mods 4
Rooms with Walls and Windows – Julie Byrne     4
Heigh Ho - Blake Mills     4
Natalie Prass- Natalie Prass          8
At Best Cuckold – Avi Buffalo      7
Morning Phase - Beck     6
Trouble in Paradise – La Roux     7
Divide and Exit – Sleaford Mods 4
Shadows in the Night - Bob Dylan              7
On Your Own Love Again - Jessica Pratt   7
No Cities to Love - Sleater-Kinney             8
Vulnicura - Bjork               8
Way Out Weather – Steve Gunn 4
Singles – Future Islands 4
Uptown Special - Mark Ronson  4
The Magic Whip - Blur    8
To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar       9
Commontime – Field Music 6
Untitled - Kendrick Lamar 7
Love Songs for Robots - Patrick Watson  7
All your Favourite Bands - Dawes              6
Currents - Tame Impala 6
Get to Heaven - Everything Everything    6
Coming Home - Leon Bridges      7
1989 - Ryan Adams 4
Second Love – Emmy the Great 7
Painting With – Animal Collective 6
Y Dadd Olaf – Gwenno 5
Pleasure Boy - Hannah Cohen     4
My Love is Cool - Wolf Alice         4
Salad Days – Mac DeMarco          5
Royal Blood – Royal Blood 5
Pom Pom - Ariel Pink      5
You Were Right – Brendan Benson           5
Total Strife Forever – East India Youth     5
Post Tropical – James Vincent McMorrow             6
Everybody Down – Kate Tempest              6
Lost Domain – Tim Wheeler        5
After the Disco – Broken Bells     5
First Mind – Nick Mulvey              6
DEAD – Young Fathers   6
Seven Dials – Roddy Frame          6
Upside Down Mountain - Bright Eyes 5
Brill Bruisers – New Pornographers          6
Present Tense – Wild Beasts        5
Mug Museum – Cate Le Bon        7
Lazaretto – Jack White   6
Rips – Ex Hex     7
My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall          7
Bonxie - Stornoway         6
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World - The Decemberists          6
Hollow Meadows - Richard Hawley           5
The Light in You - Mercury Rev   5
Courting the Squall - Guy Garvey               5
Modern Blues – The Waterboys 5
The Embers of Time - Josh Rouse              5
Blood - Lianne La Havas 6
Sermon on the Rocks - Josh Ritter             6
Everything Ever Written - Idlewild             6
Goon - Tobias Jesso        6
Marks to Prove It - The Maccabees           6
Poison Season - Destroyer           6
The Lake Poets - The Lake Poets 6
Sprinter - Torres               6
Black Messiah - D'Angelo              6
Wildheart - Miguel          6
The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society – James Yorkston           7
I Never Learn – Lykke Li 7
Futurology – Manic Street Problems        7
Popular Problems – Leonard Cohen         7
The Take Off and Landing of Everything - Elbow  7
Eska - Eska          6
Cradle to Grave - Squeeze            6
Pray for Rain - Pure Bathing Culture         6
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure - John Grant               6
Matador - Gaz Coombes               6
Art Angels - Grimes         6
Multi-Love - Unknown Mortal Orchestra                6
Lateness of Dancers – Hiss Golden Messenger    7
Carry on the Grudge – Jamie T    7
I Can't Do Without You - Caribou               7
My Favourite Faded Fantasy – Damien Rice          7
The Voyager – Jenny Lewis          7
Everyday Robots – Damon Albarn             7
The Midwest Farmer's Daughter - Margo Price 7
Dear Satellite - Mull Historical Society 6
A Sailor's Guide to Earth - Sturgill Simpson 8
The Hope Six Demolition Project - PJ Harvey 6
Singing Saw - Kevin Morby 7
Distance Inbetween - The Coral 6
Anti - Rihanna 7
Lemonade - Beyonce 10
The Life of Pablo - Kanye West 5
Crab Day - Cate Le Bon 6
Something More than Free - Jason Isbell 8
Side Pony - Lake Street Dive 7
Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead 7
Blackstar - David Bowie 8
The Colour in Anything - James Blake 6
Hopelessness - Anohni 6
Konnichiwa - Skepta 6
Fallen Angels - Bob Dylan 6
Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul - Dexys 6
Good Times! - The Monkees 7
Love You to Death - Tegan and Sara 7
Stranger to Stranger - Paul Simon 8
Love and Hate - Michael Kiwanuka 8
Why Are You OK - Band of Horses 6
Patience - The Invisible 6
case/lang/veirs - case/lang/veirs 8
Meet the Humans - Steve Mason 7
Nice as Fuck - Nice as Fuck 6
The Bride - Bat for Lashes 7
The Dreaming Room - Laura Mvula 8
Night Thoughts - Suede 5
Freetown Sound - Blood Orange 6
Light Upon the Lake - Whitney 7
Eyes on the Line - Steve Gunn 6
Furnaces - Ed Harcourt 7
Blonde - Frank Ocean 5
Schmilco - Wilco 7
Skeleton Tree - Nick Cave 9
No Mind No Money - Beach Baby 7
Astronaut Meets Appleman - King Creosote 6
Future Echoes - The Pictish Trail
Mangy Love - Cass McCombs
Foreverland - The Divine Comedy 5
Trick - Jamie T 6
Here - Teenage Fanclub 7
My Woman - Angel Olsen 7
We Move - James Vincent McMorrow 5
Seat at the Table - Solange 7
Joanne - Lady Gaga 6
Le Chaleur Humaine - Christine and the Queens 8
The Divine Comedy
You Want it Darker - Leonard Cohen 7
Views - Drake
Ruminations - Conor Oberst 8
American Band - Drive-By Truckers 7
Bon Iver
Remember Us To Life - Regina Spektor 6
Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop
Leonard Cohen
Jamila Woods
Drive-by Truckers
Mark Eitzel

Easypeasy, this reviewing business. If in doubt, give it a 6.