In the 1960s, surfing was exploding on both coasts. I know. When I was 14, I bought my first board for 50 bucks, a humongous 9.5 ft. Jacobs with a battered nose, and rode the wild surf of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Back then, the coolest things a young cat could be was in a garage band or a surfer.
There was a glut of sixties Hollywood surfing films in which stars like Fabian, Elvis, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello never got wet. And then there were the low-budget indie documentaries that featured bona-fide surfers like Ricky Grigg and Greg Noll riding real waves. Blue Surf-Ari was one of those films. Despite threadbare plots, cheesy voice overs and lots of footage of teenyboppers milling around waiting for something to happen, these flicks did deliver when it came to awesome wave action. What the low-budget surf films lacked in narrative, they made up in some dynamite footage of surfers shredding down the walls of bigass waves, shooting the curl and being battered by merciless bodies of water.
In 1977 Stiff Records put together the infamous Live Stiffs tour which was comprised of some their better selling acts at the time: Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Wreckless Eric and The New Rockets, Nick Lowe’s Last Chicken in the Shop and Larry Wallis’s Psychedelic Rowdies. There were 18 musicians in total, some doing double duty by playing in more than one band. Imagine a punk rock Rolling Thunder Revue with no budget but with a shitload of booze.
The tour was a financial bust but, by all accounts, a rollicking good time. Though, Costello later satirized the tour in his song “Pump It Up.’
Here’s the entire Live Stiffs tour film featuring all the bands on some battered video tape. It’s rare. If you find a better copy somewhere, please send it to me. This version is like experiencing ancient punk rock field recordings or the Motel 6 version of Cocksucker Blues. Rough but fun.
Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie share their recipe for marzipan bees on British children’s TV show The Wide Awake Club in 1986.
A baby seal, a skull tipped walking cane, the water phone, marzipan bees and a hacky sack playing fool in the background, it’s all quite surreal. Imagine watching this in the morning after a night of no sleep….which is exactly what I’m doing right now.
The late Phil Ochs, one of the greatest singer/songwriters of the 1960s on a rarified perch with Dylan, Joni and Cohen, wasn’t a household name but he was big enough to have affected a lot of people. Director/writer Kenneth Bowser’s powerful documentary of his life is called Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune and it’ll tweak your empathy gland while breaking your heart. Hopefully it’ll also wire and inspire the viewer to go out and demand that America live up to its self-image as a nation of people who care about others. Among the many onscreen friends and troublemakers who tout Phil’s complicated genius are Sean Penn, Paul Krassner, Ed Sanders, Van Dyke Parks, Abbie Hoffman, Christopher Hitchens, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow, and Tom Hayden. Brother Michael Ochs (who also produced), sister Sonny, and daughter and activist Meegan Ochs provide the most personal insights.
Born in Texas, raised in Ohio, Phil fused JFK-inspired New Frontier idealism and his natural musical ability and it led him to the guitar and New York City 1962 where folk music and left-wing politics created an army of singing rebels. Phil had a fluid, Irish tenor voice with a perfect vibrato and wrote prodigiously. The songs were ripped from the headlines, as they say, addressing the civil rights struggle (“Here’s To The State Of Mississippi”), Vietnam (“White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land”) and U.S. imperialism (“Cops Of The World”). Two of his classics—“I Ain’t Marching Anymore” and “The War Is Over”—became anthems of the anti-war movement. He also had a razor sharp sense of black humor as heard in “Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends,” his faux-upbeat examination of apathy’s victims.
If there was a cause and an event, Phil was there in a heartbeat. “Phil would turn down a commercial job for a benefit because the benefit would reach more people,” says brother Michael. We see scene after scene of the handsome, upbeat, stiff-spined troubadour singing truth to power and joyously quipping in period interviews. A charter member of the ‘60s counterculture (though not uncritical of its excesses), he helped create the Yippies with friends Hoffman, Krassner and Sanders, Jerry Rubin and Stew Albert. The Yippies’ plan for a Festival Of Life to contrast the festival of death at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago resulted in blowback by the powers that be and while the whole world watched, Windy City coppers ran amok, beating heads in, spilling buckets of blood and mocking dissent in the greatest democracy in the world. Like many, Phil was devastated. “I guess everybody goes through a certain stage of disillusionment and decides the world is not the sweet and fair place I always assumed and that justice would out,” reflected a bitter Phil after Chicago ‘68. “I always thought justice would out, I no longer think that by any stretch. I don’t think fairness wins anymore.”
Either a genius or a dazzling genius, depending on which way you look at it, 15Peter20 (real name Ian Phillips) has made his mark in the world of contemporary photography thanks to a series of shocking, gimmick-heavy exhibitions in which the gimmick quickly becomes attached to the underside of the art, then scuttles up its back, hops on its shoulders and screams which direction it should go in, while simultaneously flashing its bum at passers-by. His new collection, Piss Bliss, consists entirely of photographs of celebrities urinating, thereby expertly capturing their animal vulnerability while exquisitely forcing jocular postmodernity to commit taboobicide. These pictures are at once the most revealing portrait photographs ever taken and an absolutely bloody flabbergasting waste of the world’s time.
This piece appears in the book Fucking With Your Head Yeah? that came with the original Nathan Barley DVD release.
I’ve been on a bit of a Monkees kick recently. The other day I was listening to Headquarters album—something I’ve not put on in years and years—and within seconds of the track “Zilch” starting, Tara and I looked at one another like “Hey, this is where the sample from “Mistadobalina” comes from!”
“Zilch” is a nonsensical, dada fugue composed and performed by all four Monekees. It begins with Peter Tork saying “Mr. Dobolina, Mr. Bob Dobolina. Mr. Dobolina, Mr. Bob Dobolina,” etc., before Davy Jones comes in with “Zilch. China clipper calling Alameda. China clipper calling Alameda,” etc., before Micky Dolenz comes in with “Zilch. Never mind the furthermore, the plea is self defense. Never mind the furthermore, the plea is self defense,” (which is a line from Oklahoma) and Mike finally joins in with “Zilch. It is of my opinion that the people are intending. It is of my opinion that the people are intending,” etc. Ultimately the four repeat these lines faster and faster until they break up in laughter.
The Monkees would sometimes sing “Zilch” as they entered a public performance. It was also used in one episode where they’re being interrogated by a police sergeant and a bit of “Zilch” is what they respond with.
Below, the video for Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s hip-hop classic, “Mistadobalina”:
The other samples used by Del tha Funkee Homosapien in “Mistadobalina” are “Pin the Tail on the Funky” by Parliament and James Brown’s “Stone To The Bone.”
“Zilch” is also referenced in the film Honeymoon in Vegas when “Bob Dobalina” is paged over a PA system.
Last year, the actor and director Peter Mullan took top honors at the San Sebastian Film Festival with his latest film Neds. Neds is short for Non Educated Delinquents, and Mullan’s film deals with the subject of “neds” and their teenage gangs in Glasgow of the 1970s. Something, as Mullan explained to Demetrios Matheou of The Observer back in 2001, he knows about from his years as:
...a member of knife-carrying Glasgow street gang the Young Car-Ds; hanging around, fighting with other gangs, chasing girls, getting drunk. Despite being a bright, bookwormy boy, he was truant from school for the entire year of his gang career. He recognises this now as a crossroads in his life, from which his fellow Car-Ds inadvertently helped him find the right path. ‘They eventually asked me to leave, for two reasons: one, they always felt I was slumming it - because I would use words like “flabbergasted”.’ He grins, remembering the embarrassment. ‘And also because I wanted to up the ante, I wanted us to do really crazy things.’ For a change, he won’t elaborate. ‘Quite rightly they said no. They saved my life, no doubt about it.’
Mullan went on to study at the University of Glasgow, where he excelled as a student until he suffered a nervous breakdown.
‘I just put a ridiculous pressure on myself,’ he recalls. ‘I was terrified of failure, and paralysed by the idea of success. It had a lot to do with class, I think, with deep-rooted class insecurity. Everyone I met at university was middle class. I thought, “Who am I to be here?”’
He eventually returned and re-sat his finals, but in-between, Mullan found a stability amongst actors and joined the student theatre. From this his career as an actor began.
For seven years after he left university Mullan combined teaching drama in the community - in borstals, prisons, community centres and, for two years, at the university itself - with performing. This was the heyday of left-wing theatre companies such as 7:84 and Wildcat. And Mullan helped set up guerrilla troupes with names like First Offence and Redheads, touring western Scotland with overtly political plays influenced by the likes of Brecht, Howard Barker and Dario Fo. Thatcherism, the miners’ strike, the National Front, were typical subjects - ‘anything that related to what I felt to be true about the working class’.
He knew he was a Marxist by the time he was 15, despite his Catholic background. ‘Truth is I don’t think God on a daily basis,’ he shrugs. ‘I think politics, science.’ In the 80s he regarded himself as being further to the left than Militant, refusing to join either those rebels or the Labour Party itself. ‘The irony was that Labour very mistakenly sent me a letter throwing me out - when I wasn’t actually a fucking member.’
Mullan is now an internationally respected actor and director - with acting credits in such films as Trainspotting, My Name is Joe, The Claim, Miss Julie, and work as an awrd-winning director with his feature films Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters. This year will see the release of his third feature as director, Neds.
However, his first work as a director was Close - a grim, brutal and darkly humorous tale of one man’s murderous breakdown in a tenement block or “close”. It is a powerful and violent piece, one that hints at the violence in Mullan’s own background:
More than that, Mullan describes a household almost under siege from his alcoholic father’s dark personality. ‘There are some people who walk into a room and they oxygenate it, by their very being there’s fresh air,’ he says. ‘Then there are those who come in with the smell of death and they suck the life out. He was one of those. I remember the undiluted, black-as-coal bile that used to come out of his mouth.’
As Charles Mullan’s lung cancer worsened, so the abuse strayed from the psychological to the physical. ‘In the later years, when he got drunk on whisky, you didnae wanna know. Eventually our household went completely nuts, because the boys became teenagers and physically strong, and violence became a way of life.’ Mullan and his brothers hit back. ‘We had no choice. I think it’s fair to say that if you walk in from school and he’s got your mother over the table with a knife at her throat, one’s going to get physical.’
Close isn’t for the faint-hearted, so you have been warned.
Mullan’s film Neds opens on the 21st January in the UK, as yet, there is no US release date.
Part 2 of ‘Close’ plus bonus trailer for ‘Neds’, after the jump…
In the late ‘60’s I worked for Bell Labs for a few years managing a data center and developing an ultra high speed information retrieval system. It was the days of beehive hair on the women and big mainframe computers. One day I took a camera to work and shot the pictures below. I had a great staff, mostly women except for the programmers who were all men. For some reason only one of them was around for the pictures that day.
I must say how very, very sorry I am to see Alan Grayson leaving Congress. He’s a true progressive hero and I do hope we’ll still be seeing a lot of him in the future. Judging from the sentiments he offered The New York Times in this fiery “exit interview.” I don’t suspect Grayson’s planning to go quietly. Let’s hope not, this country needs more—many more—like him. It’s inspiring to read such clear-headed thoughts coming from a Democrat:
During the long conversation, Mr. Grayson, a 52-year-old father of five, faulted Democrats for failing to deliver for some of their most potent constituencies, among them labor unions and antiwar voters.
“What did the environmentalists see over the last two years?” he asked. “A proposed monumental increase in subsidies for nuclear power industry and offshore drilling.”
As for gay voters, he said: “What they got to see was a judge order that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ no longer be enforced and a Democratic president appeal that decision. That is what that constituency saw before Nov. 2.” (The law was repealed in the final hours of the 111th Congress.)
By Election Day, Democratic voters in many districts felt that they had no real choice, Mr. Grayson said.
“If you want people to support you, then you have to support them,” he said. “You have to think long about what you did for people who voted for you, made phone calls for you, who went door to door for you.”
Mr. Grayson, of course, finds much to like within the Democratic Party. He offered a glowing assessment of the departing speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, giving her an A “without reservation.”
And he considers the political right to be intolerable. He called the Republicans “a hopeless sellout party that will never do anything constructive for ordinary people in this country.”
“I don’t have to speculate about it anymore,” he said. “I worked with them for two years.”
If the execs at CNN have a brain cell amongst them, they will sign Grayson up for his own talk show before MSNBC does!