Andy Morgan has written a terrific article for UK paper The Guardian called “From Fear To Fury: How the Arab World Found Its Voice.” It details how music has had a pivotal impact in kickstarting and sustaining the revolutions in the Arab world, with particular attention paid to Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor, or El Général.
On 7 November, El Général uploaded a piece of raw fury called “Rais Le Bled” (President, Your Country) on to Facebook. “My president, your country is dead/ People eat garbage/ Look at what is happening/ Misery everywhere/ Nowhere to sleep/ I’m speaking for the people who suffer/ Ground under feet.” Within hours, the song had lit up the bleak and fearful horizon like an incendiary bomb. Before being banned, it was picked up by local TV station Tunivision and al-Jazeera. El Général’s MySpace was closed down, his mobile cut off. But it was too late. The shock waves were felt across the country and then throughout the Arab world. That was the power of protesting in Arabic, albeit a locally spiced dialect of Arabic. El Général’s bold invective broke frontiers and went viral from Casablanca to Cairo and beyond.”
Morgan’s article can be found here and it is essential reading.
The Guardian has also posted some links to music videos of songs that figured into the Arab uprisings by Sheik Imam Amir Eid, Hany Adel and Sherif Mostafa of Egypt and Iraqi rapper Narcicyst. Check them out here.
In 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut at the Oxford New Theater, in Lindsay Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.
The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:
David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….
...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.
The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempt to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.
After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968.
Bowie’s career throughout the sixties exemplifies Thomas Edison’s adage “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,” as the young hopeful musician worked hard and toured the length and breadth of the UK under various guises: The Konrads, The Hookers, Davie Jones and The King Bees, The Manish Boys, the Blues influenced Davie Jones and The Lower Third, Davie Jones and The Buzz, and The Riot Squad, a band described as:
“The Complete Musical Entertainers covering Pop, Tableaux, Burlesque and Parody”
Even at this early stage, Bowie was shedding musical styles quicker than he changed his hair - from beat thru Blues to Music Hall and Pop. With hindsight, you can see where he was going, but by 1967, the teenager’s first recording career had come to a halt after the release of his oddment Laughing Gnome after which, Bowie didn’t to release a record for another two years.
During this time, he fell under the influence of mime artist and performer, Lindsay Kemp, who helped Bowie channel his unique talent towards Space Oddity and later Ziggy Stardust. As Kemp later told journalist Mick Brown for Crawdaddy in 1974:
“I taught David to free his body,” says Kemp, smiling wickedly.
“Even before meeting, David and I had felt the need to work together. I’d identified myself with his songs, and he’d seen my performances and identified himself with my songs. I was singing the songs of my life with my body; he was singing the songs of his life very fabulously with his voice, and we reckoned that by putting the two together the audience couldn’t help but be enthralled. In other words, one large gin is very nice, but two large gins are even nicer.”
The two large gins became Pierrot in Turquoise, which was filmed by Scottish Television in 1969, and broadcast in July 1970. How a small regional TV station like STV, came to film this rather strange theatrical show is, no doubt, a tale in itself, but thankfully they did, even if one cataloguer at Scottish Screen Archives “found this quite creepy,” it is still well worth watching.
David Bowie as Cloud
Lindsay Kemp as Pierrot
Jack Birkett as Harlequin
Annie Stainer as Columbine
Michael Garret as Piano Player
It was filmed at the Scottish Television’s Gateway Theater in Edinburgh, and was directed by Brian Mahoney. Now if only STV made programs like this today…
This is the infamous performance of “Light My Fire” by The Doors on The Ed Sullivan Show in September of 1967.
Jim Morrison and the band had been asked by the producer of the Sullivan show, Bob Precht, to alter the lyrics of the song so as to eliminate the phrase “we couldn’t get much higher.” Sullivan’s sponsors didn’t dig the idea that the song’s lyrics might suggest drug use. The band agreed to change the lyrics but come show time Morrison sang the lyrics as originally written. As a result, The Doors were banned from ever again appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. As if it really mattered. The Doors were unstoppable and nothing, certainly not a TV variety show, was going to get in their way.
While The Doors banishment by Sullivan is an oft told tale, the video footage of the performance has only been available on the Internet in low quality truncated form. Here’s a good quality clip of the performance in full.
Bollywood special effects spectacular Endhiran is getting a lot of attention for its over-the-top action sequences but I found the musical numbers to be the most entertaining parts of the movie. With music by the fabulous A.R. Rahman and choreography by Prabhu Deva, Endhiran’s song and dance numbers are a high calorie feast for the eyes and ears. The musical sequences come out of nowhere and have little relationship to the plot of the movie, but in Bollywood it hardly matters. One of the more lavish numbers takes place in Machu Picchu which is totally baffling because there is no reference to Peru anywhere else in the film. For five minutes the movie suddenly shifts to Peru without explanation. Why? Because it looks awesome. No explanation needed. Goofy, surreal and silly, Endhiran is three hours of non-stop Bollywood insanity. Try to catch this one on the big screen in a theater with a good sound system.
Coming on like a mashup of Michael Jackson and Duran Duran videos with bits and pieces of Star Wars , The Terminator and Viva Las Vegas, the following clip will give you a taste of the pop culture explosion that is Endhiran. The song is “Arima Amira.”
One more Monkees-related post: a seldom-seen clip of them (sans Peter) performing “Nine Times Blue” in 1969 on The Johnny Cash Show. And let’s not forget that “The Man in Black” was born today in 1932.
Continuing on with my recent, rampant bout of middle-aged man Monkeemania, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t post about Eric Lefcowitz’s fine new group biography, Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-for-TV Band. Author of a previous Monkees book, Lefcowitz was early on the curve that saw the Monkees’ reputation rehabilitated when MTV began screening the Pre-Fab Four’s antics to a new generation in the mid-80s. In 2011, decades after the fact, who really cares that they were a “manufactured” group when they left behind so much amazing music in their wake? In the context of today’s pop music, the concept is practically meaningless. It’s not like this held back the Spice Girls, NKOTB or Gorillaz, is it?
For Monkee Business, Eric Lefcowitz has expanded his earlier bio, The Monkees’ Tale, with additional information on the big money cottage industry that sprung up practically overnight to surround the project and the four over-whelmed young men at the heart of it. The fact is that the Monkess were a pop culture “product” that had an awful lot of money put behind it and it paid off handsomely. The Monkees generated unbelievable amounts of cash. Selling over 50 million records is not exactly a small accomplishment as Lefcowitz makes clear and it took something of a “machine” to make it happen (It’s also something that might attract the attention of the mob, as it reportedly did…). What I particularly like about the approach of looking at the business side of things when examining the phenomenon of the Monkees, is that it properly ascribes credit to the apparatus that made all of this great music possible, while the author also makes it plain to see that none of it ever would have worked in the first place sans the lucky accident of casting exactly these four guys and the charisma and the individual and collective talents of Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork.
[Try to imagine Stephen Stills in Peter Tork’s role or Neil Young wearing a wool cap playing “Mike” (or Frank Zappa for that matter!). Could say, Steve Marriott, have made a better “Davy”? It falls apart quickly doesn’t it? All I know is that I’m glad I was born into this universe and not a parallel one where the Monkees, exactly as we know and love them, never existed.]
Lefcowitz also pays careful attention to the roles that some major behind-the-scenes talent had on the success of The Monkees: Series creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider who would go on to make films like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, and The Last Picture Show; the late millionaire music mogul Don Kirshner; Head’s co-writer/producer, a then-unknown Jack Nicholson; and of course the A-list songwriting talent who wrote for the Monkees like Neil Diamond, Carole King & Gerry Goffin, Harry Nilsson and Boyce & Hart and the studio musicians and producers who made their records so memorable, like Glen Campbell, the Wrecking Crew, Chip Douglas and others.
Along the way we also learn of the various other luminaries the Monkees’ orbits collided with, including The Beatles (who were big fans and threw the Pre-Fabs a party when they were in London) and Jimi Hendrix, who infamously opened for part of their first American tour. Lefcowitz also comes up with a few amusing anecdotes about drug use (well, Micky and Peter’s), over-inflated egos and the madness of being thrust into instant worldwide celebrity (Peter Tork would compose a newspaper editorial about this subject after the death of Michael Jackson). He also follows their post 1970 careers closely, whether together or apart, including the various reunion tours.
John Kowalski and Rian Trench formed Solar Bears in 2009, after they met at college. Their connection was a liking for world cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, and science fiction. Their influences came from electronica, Death in Vegas, Primal Scream, and film composers like John Barry, John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone, George Delerue, Vangelis and Gorgio Moroder. All of which filters thru their work and tells you everything you need to know about their sound. Listening to Solar Bears is like listening to a beautiful and compelling soundtrack to a brilliant, cult sci-fi film:
...a mix of programming, acoustic instruments, synths and vintage tape machines. The freeform approach of their writing and recording lends itself to varying tones and colours. Tracks often have differing sound sources from each other creating a unique musical experience.
In September 2010, Solar Bears released their debut album She Was Coloured In. It was impressive stuff, a fabulous mix of sci-fi pop and pulsating soundscapes, which lead Obscure Sound to write:
...the duo are clearly masters of believable soundscapes, and their elaborate songwriting and production really go a long way in separating Solar Bears from the masses of atmospherically-dependent electronic artists.
..the very best stuff on She Was Coloured In manages to touch all the bases, using the low-key moments for atmosphere and juicing them up with stylish genre tweaks. “She Was Coloured In” pulses with a progged-out, psychedelic energy, while “Crystalline (Be Again)” is a delicate club jam that oozes late-era New Order. Highlight “Dolls” ambitiously drags bleary, wistful keys and strings through an epically aggressive trip-hop suite, followed by an anthemic final act. In these moments, She Was Coloured In really pops; the mysteries of the universe as imagined in a pulp novel seem to come into focus.
It’s a fine album and Solar Bears are well worth getting to know, so here for your edification and delight are a selection of their tracks, some of which have been married to clips from the films The Planet of the Apes, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain and Fantastic Planet. Enjoy.