‘They’re not very good, and they know that, right?’ (A 20th Century Women Two for Tuesday)

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20th Century Women quad poster

I recently watched 20th Century Women, a poignant film set in California at the tail-end of the 1970s. I would definitely recommend it as it’s beautifully written and directed by Mike Mills – the man behind videos for everyone from Yoko Ono to Air, who even named a song after him on Talkie Walkie. There’s also a great ensemble cast that includes Annette Bening, Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon), Billy Crudup (Alien: Covenant) and Greta Gerwig, once dubbed ‘the Meryl Streep of Mumblecore’ although Gerwig has appeared in a lot more good films than Streep has managed in recent years.

Come to think of it so have Bening, Fanning and Crudup.

Bening is particularly strong here as Dorothea, obsessively overanalyzing everything and obsessively smoking too – to the extent that Don Draper might even believe she should cut down. She’s sarcastic but supportive; anti-authoritarian but keen to daily check her stocks and shares. She owns a sprawling and messy house that sometimes resembles a mini commune – she has given a home to budding photographer Abbie, who is fighting cervical cancer and who dyed her hair red after seeing The Man Who Fell to Earth, William a hippy handyman and, at nights, Julie, who Dorothea’s fifteen year old son Jamie fixates on.

Together these five central characters form a kind of makeshift family.

Dorothea gave birth to Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) late in life and as he likes to points out ‘she was raised during the depression’ as if this was an entirely different world.

As ancient as she is, though, Dorothea retains an open mind and investigates a punkish local club and evaluates her feelings about bands like The Raincoats. She attempts to make sense of young people and the ways they have changed since she was a girl although Jamie, Julie and Abbie often remain a mystery to her – just as I don’t get teenagers of today getting excited about a ringtone or the latest Xbox release – she’s 55 (the age I am now) in 1979, while the Julie character is seventeen (the age I was then).

Here are her thoughts on hearing The Raincoats for the first time:

Dorothea: They’re not very good, and they know that, right?

Abbie: Yeah, it’s like they’ve got this feeling, and they don’t have any skill, and they don’t want skill, because it’s really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that’s raw. Isn’t it great?’

Actually one of the things I think I like about The Raincoats is the clash within their ranks of the musically accomplished (violinist Vicky Aspinall had been playing since she was five and had a classical training) with the intuitive (the rest of the band).

The Raincoats have always been a band that people tend to love or hate. Danny Baker utterly slated them after seeing them play live early in their career; Kurt Cobain adored them and when, in late 1993, the band’s three studio albums were re-released, he happily agreed to supply some liner notes.

Like The Raincoats, 20th Century Women also split opinions. In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw described it as ‘exasperatingly supercilious and smug – unfocused, self-consciously cute, nostalgic and empathetic, but never properly funny’.

Ouch.

Bradshaw isn’t a fan of anything indie and quirky and I while I struggle myself with uber kooky efforts like Napoleon Dynamite and Eagle vs Shark, I obviously found the film far more enjoyable than he did and while Bradshaw detested the stills, intertitles and archive footage that punctuate the movie I thought their use was often inspired. We see stills of Debbie Harry and Humphrey Bogart, typographic quotes from Judy Blume and Susan Lydon, we see Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence speech and even a little sequence from Koyaanisqatsi.

There are also multiple-narrative voiceovers, usually rotating between mother and son but with each of the five main characters contributing.

From the spring of 1979 and released (almost inevitably) on Rough Trade, this is The Raincoats and Fairytale In The Supermarket:


Just like a recent and similarly themed film, 2015’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, this has a fantastic soundtrack. No Television, T.Rex or the Dwight Twilley Band but Neu! and Suicide, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Buzzcocks. I never could have guessed that Why Can’t I Touch It? would play over the end credits of a film nominated for two Golden Globes and an Oscar.

Amazingly enough Roger Neill’s score – utilising early synths of the period with a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer to the fore – failed to garner even a nod from the Academy. Slant even went as far as to decry it as ‘ambient music of the yoga-clinic waiting-room variety’.

Me? I reckon it is one of the very best scores I have heard since the end of the 20th century – yeah, that good, full with the kind of wonderful ambient washes that Eno can only dream about nowadays.

And speaking of Brian Eno, here’s another track from the soundtrack, co-written by Bowie, Eno and Carlos Alomar. If The Raincoats split opinions, Bowie as much as just about any artist living or dead unites the musical tastes of Joe Public. Here he is with DJ from his 1979 album Lodger:


For more on The Raincoats, click here.

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Prince of Players, Pawn of None

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T. Rex: Dandy in the Underworld (EMI)

t-rex-dandy-in-the-underworld-sleeve

Like most 50-somethings I truly believe that I was lucky to grow up with some of the most exciting music imaginable.

Even before I’d reached my teen years there was Bowie, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, Slade, The Sweet (yeah!), Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, Cockney Rebel, Sparks and more who all seemed to routinely bring out a sparkling new album every year (or maybe even two albums in the same year) and make regular must-see appearances on Top of the Pops to be dissected at length in school the very next morning. Bliss it was in that glittered and feather boa’d dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. Well, that’s how it felt at times.

Firstly though there was T. Rex fronted by glam rock trailblazer, Mr. Mark Feld, better known as Marc Bolan.

Bolan’s first words to manager Simon Napier Bell back in 1966 were supposedly: ‘Hi, I’m a singer and I’m going to be the biggest ever British star.’ Marc really did patholigically crave fame and although not many would argue that he achieved that particular mid-’60s prediction, for a couple of years at the height of T. Rextasy in the early 1970s, few would have totally dismissed the idea as his band let rip with a string of pure pop classics with crunching guitar hooks that instantaneously lodged in your brain – Ride a White Swan, Hot Love, Get It On, Jeepster, Telegram Sam and Metal Guru – that my fellow children of the revolution lapped up.

They all still sound fantastic today.

The world of pop was fast-changing back then and, by 1972, Bolan was already talking of how his success couldn’t last, that the fans’ tastes would change as they got older, how they would want to find new stars to adore and how pop music was all based on cycles anyway.

This proved to be a more accurate prediction. Soon there were no sell-out shows at enornodomes throughout the country, no ex-Beatles wanting to colloborate on films and diminishing sales returns. Bolan’s Zip Gun, released in February 1975, failed to even chart in Britain, although a single taken from it, Light of Love was a minor hit; the follow up, though, Zip Gun Boogie, stalled just outside the top forty.

Critics at NME and elsewhere loved to sneer, especially about the few extra inches that had been added round his waistline. By 1977, Marc looked to many like yesterday’s man, a little washed up, still capable of making some very good music but far from the sensation of his Electric Warrior days.

Yesterday’s man, though, had a few aces up his sleeves. He recorded an album Dandy in the Underworld, which was likely his best since The Slider and he notably became one of the relatively few elder statesmen of rock and pop to fully embrace punk, persuading The Damned to support him on his British tour and launching Dandy that March at London’s punk central, the Roxy in Covent Garden.

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He also agreed to host the late afternoon ITV pop show Marc where he showcased many of his own tracks as well as inviting on the likes of The Jam (or Jam as he introduced them), The Radio Stars and Generation X. ‘They have a lead singer who’s supposed to be as pretty as me,’ Marc cooed as he introduced that latter group while sniffing a flower. ‘We’ll see now.’ He didn’t look too convinced by the possibility.

In his new book, The Age of Bowie, Paul Morley describes Marc’s presenting style as: ‘a cross between kindly wizard, scatterbrained sweetheart and lapsed hipster, as though his years as pop star had made him possessed by a general sense of mind-altering cosmic jive.’

Marc, as you’ll see, may have looked kindly on the new breed and even went as far as to introduce a ripped T-shirt into his wardrobe but he wasn’t quite ready to completely ditch the satin, mascara and Tolkien.

Taken from Marc, here is Dandy in the Underworld:


The highlight of the entire series promised to be the duet with David Bowie that would close the sixth and final episode of the show. Since the 1960s the two men had been involved in a (usually) friendly rivalry, with Bolan winning the race for superstardom before Bowie came up on the rails, racing ahead in both the artistic and commercial stakes with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane.

In fact, by 1977, the rivalry looked as lopsided as the footballing one between England and (West) Germany. By this point Bolan maybe wished that he had set himself up in competition against someone who didn’t quite possess the stratospheric capabilities of musical invention and consistent reinvention of Bowie; Ian Hunter, say, of Mott the Hoople or Steve Harley – who incidentally provided some backing vocals on the Dandy album.

The tour and album and even the TV series did though help rehabilitate Bolan but as you’ll know, his comeback was cut sadly short. On the sixteenth of September, Marc was killed instantly when his Mini 1275GT, driven by girlfriend Gloria Jones, crashed into a steel-reinforced fence on Barnes Common only a mile away from their home, before hitting a sycamore tree.

Recorded only days before his untimely death, the final episode of Marc was shown eight days after his funeral (attended by Bowie, Tony Visconti, Steve Harley, Rod Stewart, members of The Damned and hundreds of fans). Their race against the clock jam was an anti-climax and ended embarrassingly for Bolan, who tripped over a wire causing him to fall off the stage, although the incident is mostly hidden by the programme credits.

Better though is Bowie in his solo slot. This is “Heroes”:


Footnote.

Bolan had also taken on the task of penning a regular column for Record Mirror and, a month before his own death, Marc had commented that it was sad that Elvis was gone but that it was probably better that he went before he turned into the Bing Crosby of rock’n’roll. Bizarrely enough, not long afterwards Bowie agreed to bridge the generation gap by appearing on Bing Crosby’s annual Christmas TV special, the pair performing Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.

Blackstar & Oh, To Be a Defector (Best of 2015, Part One)

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Okay, in no particular order, the first batch of my thirty favourite tracks released during 2015, kicking off with David Bowie – who I first heard in 1969 when Space Oddity made the British singles chart – and Chorusgirl, a London based act that I only discovered a few weeks ago and whose self titled album is just out on Fortuna POP! I have also included a list of my five top reads and, in future weeks, you can expect ten of the very best compilations, reissues or soundtracks and the ten films that have impressed me the most.

singles

_Linden: Rest and Be Thankful
John Foxx: Oceanic II
FFS: Johnny Delusional
Anton Newcombe and Tess Parks: German Tangerine
David Bowie: Blackstar:


Django Django: First Light
Jacco Gardner: Find Yourself
The Pop Group: Mad Truth
The Cathode Ray: Resist
Chorusgirl: Oh, To Be a Defector


Chorusgirl play Nice N Sleazy in Glasgow on 06/12/15 with The Spook School and tickets are only six quid.

For more on Chorusgirl click here for their official site. And here for their Facebook page.

the-written-word

It’s been a year where I have read less new fiction than is normally the case although, before the end of the year, I am hoping to make a start on the new Ian Rankin Rebus novel and Silenced by talented Glasgow crime writer A.J. McCreanor. And I might even have a go at Morrissey’s fiction debut, List of the Lost, a book savaged by many critics and which has just been nominated for The Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Heaven knows how Morrissey will feel if it wins this unwelcome ‘honour’ but I’m guessing pretty miserable.

Anyway, here’s my top five:

Stuart DavidIn the All-Night Cafe
Stuart Cosgrove – Detroit 67
David Cavanagh – Good Night and Good Riddance: How Thirty-Five Years of John Peel Helped to Shape Modern Life
Kris Needs – Dream Baby Dream: Suicide: A New York City Story
Irvine Welsh – A Decent Ride

The Man Who Sold The World

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The Man Who Sold the World.Concert 2014

David Bowie recently announced details of a new single Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) which will be part of a career-spanning box set retrospective titled Nothing Has Changed due to be released sometime in November.

The new song was recorded earlier this year and was produced by long term collaborator Tony Visconti, who has also been busy organising a show where Bowie’s album The Man Who Sold the World will be played in its entirety with Visconti being joined on stage for the first time since 1971 by drummer Woody Woodmansey, the last remaining Spider from Mars. Also taking part are singer Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17, Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman as well as Visconti’s singer/songwriter son Morgan and backing vocalists Holy Holy.

Tomorrow night the show’s on at the O2 ABC Glasgow and after swithering for a while over whether the gig was actually a good idea or not, I eventually decided to head along.

Would Fat White Family, who are playing up the hill at the Art School, be a better night out?

Who knows? Not me.

But I guess I’ll get many more chances in the future to take in that band live in Glasgow.

Anyway, here’s Bowie performing the title track of the album:

 
Compare and contrast time, folks.

Bowie himself is quoted as saying he was blown away when he found out that Kurt Cobain liked his work and described the Nirvana version as ‘heartfelt’. It takes a wee while to get started properly but from November 1993, this is Nirvana live on MTV’s Unplugged:

 
Nirvana’s finest cover? Possibly, although I’m very partial to Molly’s Lips myself too, a song of course written by The Vaselines, a band that I’ll be covering on here in the very near future.

For more on David Bowie click here

Goodbye, Lou: Part 2 (Lou Reed at the Glasgow Apollo)

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Lou Reed Glasgow Apollo 1974

Over the past few days I’ve searched out a pair of ads for two legendary shows that Lou Reed performed in the mid 1970s at the Glasgow Apollo as I don’t think either of them have ever been uploaded online before and I thought that fans who had attended the gigs might like to have a wee gander at them.

The one above is for a concert that took place in the summer of 1974 when I was twelve. Unfortunately, to the Apollo I did not Go, Go, Go as although I had liked Walk on the Wild Side, I wasn’t interested enough in Reed to spend between a £1 and £1.65 to watch him live.

The ad below is for an earlier show from 24 September, 1973.

Lou Reed Glasgow Apollo 1973

This gig was famously bootlegged and came out as Walk On The Wild Side, Live at the Apollo 1973, a fine set – considering that legend has it that Lou had to be carried on-stage and later carried off. His set-list that evening included ViciousRock ’n’ RollHow Do You Think It Feels? and Sister Ray.

Lou Reed Apollo 1973

I’m sure you’ll find an MP3 of the whole album out there somewhere on the net if you make the effort but here’s a taster, a version of Satellite of Love from the album Transformer co-produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson.

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A month after that visit to the Apollo, in a Let It Rock interview, Lester Bangs asked Lou, who was going through a particularly self destructive period in his life, how he intended to die. ‘I would like to live to a ripe old age,’ Lou replied, ‘and raise watermelons in Wyoming.’

I would guess Reed wasn’t being particularly serious with that answer; Lou living anywhere outside NYC was practically unthinkable, indeed the New York Daily News called him ‘the conscience of the city’ in their obituary. And as for the watermelons idea…

Elsewhere, David Bowie was among the first to pay tribute to his old pal, declaring simply that, ‘He was a master’.

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Last night at the Barclaycard Mercury Prize ceremony, Bowie (who didn’t attend) premiered this new promo for the James Murphy remix of The Next Day album track Love Is Lost, which Bowie wrote, shot (on a home camera) and edited with some help from assistant Jimmy King and friend Coco Schwab last weekend and which apparently cost only $12.99 to make. It’s been described on Bowie’s official site as a ‘strangely moving gothic inflected story line perfect for Halloween’ and here’s a chance for you to judge for yourself.

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Happy guising, folks!