Soul and pop music lost one of its greatest songwriters on Monday, with the passing of Nicholas Ashford, one half of the duo Ashford and Simpson. Have a quick flick through Ashford and Simpson’s songwriting resumé and you’ll be pretty gobsmacked at some of the tunes they’ve had a hand in - they’re without a doubt one of the best songwriting duos of the modern age, writing huge hits for Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terell, Sylvester, Ray Charles, Marlena Shaw/The 5th Dimension and lots more.
London-based producer and dj Kirk Degiorgio has put together a special Nick Ashford tribute mix, featuring some of the man, and the couple’s greatest work. This is a fitting tribute indeed, and if you were in any doubt as to how good these guys were, wrap your ears around the following. Damn you cancer, but at least we know the man’s legacy will live on for a long time.
In a very revealing interview published in the Guardian this week, ex-Throwing Muses singer and solo artist Kristin Hersh admits that she hates music and the role it has played in her life:
“Yeah, I hate music. Everyone knows that about me. Even my kids hate music. When they’re watching a kids’ show on TV, as soon as a song comes on, the TV is muted.” She reconsiders. “Maybe hate is the wrong word. We can’t bear it. The intensity of good music is too much to bear. And bad music is so offensive that that’s also too much to bear. I’m in heaven when it’s good, but that doesn’t happen very often. And anyway, you don’t want to be crying over the breakfast table. I don’t want that life.”
She is wary of the romantic notion of a link between great art and mental illness. Maybe, she concedes, in certain circumstances. But in the end the sums don’t add up. “The disease is far more dangerous than the music is valuable.”
She mentions her friend, the US singer Vic Chesnutt, who sang songs of love and loss and who died from an overdose two Christmases ago. “The fact that it killed Vic, it’s not worth it for me,” she says. “I think he’d have been a better man without music. And, even if not, he’d be here. He was more precious to me than he was to himself. And I know that I play that role for people too. My husband has begged me to stop. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work. Vic didn’t even want to. I want to.”
Hersh was at the Edinburgh book festival to promote her memoir Rat Girl - you can read the whole interview here.
Willy DeVille was born 61 years ago today. He died in 2009. I was a huge fan of his music, particularly his early work with Mink Deville, and wanted to share this documentary and video clip with you.
In the first video, DeVille and the producer of three of his albums, the legendary Jack Nietzsche, are in a hotel room in New York City and Willy is serenading his dear friend. It’s a lovely, intimate, scene in which you can see how close the two artists were and the creative energy that existed between them. Willy sings John Hiatt’s “The Way We Make A Broken Heart” and “Carmelita” by Warren Zevon.
This looks like it was filmed sometime in the mid-90s a few years before Nietzsche died. It’s from the documentary Fools Upon The Hill directed & produced by Julien Gaurichon of which there is no information on the Internet that I can find.
This moves me to my soul.
This second piece was directed by German film maker Diethard Küster for German television.
It’s 1997 and Willy has kicked his morphine habit and is living the life of a country gentleman in Louisiana.
A Fistful Of Dub is video mix featuring new and old dub and reggae recordings with clips from Spaghetti Westerns - not a mashup but an imaginary soundtrack where cowboys meet engines of rhythm.
01. ‘Black Panta’ - Lee Scratch Perry
02. ‘A Ruffer Version’ - Johnny Clarke and The Aggrovators
03. ‘Dread Are The Controller’ - Linval Thompson
03. ‘Cool Rasta’ - The Heptones
04. ‘Tel Aviv Drums’ - Glen Brown
05. ‘Dubbing With The Observer’ - King Tubby
06. ‘Funky Ragga’ - Dave and The Supersonics
07. ‘A Useful Version’ - Prince Jammy
08. ‘Magnum Force’ - The Aggrovators
09. ‘Electro Agony In Dub’ - The Grynch featuring Tippa Irie
10. ‘President Mash Up The Resident’ - Shorty
11. ‘Steel Plate’ - Fat Eyes
12. ‘Diplo Rhythm’ - Diplo
13. ‘Streetsweeper’ - Steely and Clevie
14. ‘X- Perry-Ment’ - Lee Scratch Perry
“Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more
The Bloody Red Baron was rollin’ out the score
Eighty men died tryin’ to end that spree
Of the Bloody Red Baron of Germany.”
The Royal Guardsmen from Ocala, Florida, were a bubblegum rock group best known for two novelty records about Snoopy’s exploits in World War One as he battled “The Red Baron” (Manfred von Richthofen). “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas” were almost guaranteed to be in any home with both kids and a record player in the sixties and seventies. Both songs were inescapable at skating rinks during the era.
“Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” reached #2 on the Billboard chart in 1967 and sold over a million copies before dropping out of the chart four months later. There was also an album of Snoopy and Red Baron-themed songs and skits. Snoopy & His Friends was not really a concept album so much as an attempt to cash in with increasingly witless versions of the same goofy formula. The Royal Guardsmen even had a “Snoopy” song on their second album. Probably tired of singing about the adventures of a flying cartoon beagle, the Royal Guardsmen disbanded in 1969. They reformed again in 2006 for “Snoopy vs. Osama.”
I can assure you that I found this clip quite accidentally.
Werner Erhard Training Seminars (est) were hugely popular in the 1970s. Erhard took elements of Zen Buddhism, Freud, Dale Carnegie and Scientology and incorporated them into a rigorous workshop program lasting several days, a kind of psychological bootcamp, the goal of which was to improve the participants’ lives.
Erhard, a former used car salesman, was an effective and charismatic pitchman for teachings that were not without merit. He took his cues from some of the best, including the venerable and entertaining Alan Watts.
I knew dozens of people who took the workshops and felt they were useful. Others felt they were a waste of time.
Erhard’s reputation was the subject of several smear campaigns that were later revealed to be based on false information. One in particular, a 60 Minutes report, was devastating to Erhard’s career and was later renounced by CBS, which aired it, as being built on a foundation of outright lies and rumors. Accusations of sexual abuse, incest, and physical abuse were found to have been fabrications.
The damage was done and Erhard’s training seminars never regained the level of popularity they enjoyed before the bad press. Allegedly, Scientology was behind some of the rumors that helped topple Erhard’s est empire. L. Ron Hubbard didn’t like the competition and his organization can be ruthless when it comes to destroying a perceived “enemy.”
The essentials of Erhard’s teachings were really nothing new, but they set the stage for the new age/self help scene that has permeated American pop spirituality for the past four decades. Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson and ‘The Secret” all owe a debt of gratitude to Werner Erhard for kneading the modern brain into a nice quivering blob of supplicant meat.
Mr. Rocky Mountain High interviews Werner Erhard on the the Tonight Show on September 24, 1973
There’s a line by Neil Innes, which Richard likes to quote:
There are no coincidences, but sometimes the pattern
It’s from “Keynsham” by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, who were on here recently, and well, there’s just something in the air as here’s another fine documentary from Jonathan Ross, this one from 1988, when he interviewed the “Pope of Trash”, the “Anal Anarchist”, the “Ayatollah of Crud”, the fabulous Mr. John Waters.
Shown as part of Ross’s series The Incredibly Strange Film Show, and recorded not long after Waters’ co-conspirator Divine died, this superb documentary contains one of the best and most revealing interviews Waters has ever given.
Starting with the opening of Hairspray in Baltimore 1988, with interviews from key Dreamlanders, a chewy selection choice clips, background skinny and some fabulous archive.
And what can we learn from this all? As Waters explains, without Divine there would be no John Waters’ films, for Divine represented the rebel who could win. Nice, but that’s a line which is also true of Mr Waters - for he is the rebel who won.
A new documentary by the Quay Brothers which focuses on the The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the fascinating Mütter Museum will have its premier on September 22 in Philadelphia.
Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum) is a documentary on the collections of books, instruments, and medical anomalies at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. This short film (running time: 31 minutes) is the first made by the internationally recognized Quay Brothers in the United States.
Learn more about the Mutter Museum by visiting their website.
The Quay Brothers discuss the making of their new film: