“Wham! Bam! My cat ‘Splash’ rests on my bed. She’s swallowed her tongue while drinking all my whiskey.” That’s the nonsensical opening line to the 1977 radio hit “Ça plane pour moi” by Plastic Bertrand translated from French to English, however, the lyrics don’t seem to make any sense in either language. Widely considered a caricature of the punk era, the three-chord rocker “Ça plane pour moi” (which loosely translates as “This Life’s for Me”) became an anthem for a generation and remains a cult favorite to this day. However, over 30 years after its deranged pop insanity sold millions of copies around the world Bertrand finally admitted that he did not sing the vocals himself, nor indeed any of the vocals from the four acclaimed albums he released as Plastic Bertrand before vanishing from sight in 1982. So how’d this Belgian prankster pull a Milli Vanilli on the world and get away with it for so long?
In summer of ‘77, Belgian producer Lou Deprijck recorded “Ça plane pour moi” at the famous Morgan Studios in northwest London very quickly over the course of a single night. “Two hours in the studio followed by three hours in the pub next door,” Deprijck recounted. He sang the vocal track himself as a pastiche to the punk movement and an appeal to the pogo-pogo dancing punks he’d seen at nightclubs. Guitarist & engineer Mike Butcher remembers that to speed up the tempo, he did a little bit of tampering in the studio to recreate Johnny Rotten’s vocal style. “The song was recorded at a slow tempo and then accelerated afterward, that’s what gave it that particular sound.” John Valcke from the legendary Belgian pop rock group The Wallace Collection played bass and a local from the Belgian jazz and blues scene named Bob Dartsch played the drums. They were all pleased with the final product when it was complete, however, Lou Deprijck feared the song didn’t suit his particular style or persona.
A longtime friend of Lou’s, Eric Rie, knew a punk band Hubble Bubble whose 23-year-old drummer Roger Jouret fit the profile perfectly. Roger was fashionable and wore extravagant outfits that were tacky but picture perfect, to them it was as if he fell from the sky at the exact perfect moment in time. He sang terribly, however, most artists at the time were using playback during TV shows. Determined to get his song its due recognition, Lou Deprijck brainstormed a daring plan to form a partnership with Roger. Roger Jouret was presented as the singer of the “Ça plane pour moi”, and thus Plastic Bertrand was born. “I went to London to buy him a jacket with zippers pierced with safety pins in Malcolm McLaren’s shop, the manager of the Sex Pistols” Deprijck recalls. “When I returned from vacation, three weeks after the album’s release, he was number one everywhere. Honestly, I never thought the song would trigger such a tidal wave. Looking back, I sometimes regret it.”
Anyone who thinks the vinyl revival is some hipster fad that’s going to fade as quickly as a cloud of Beaujolais-flavored gas from a ten dollar vape pipe is not paying attention. With 1000s of new titles being released every month and instantly selling out, crate diggers who run indie record labels are plunging further down the vinyl mine shaft and coming up with freshly discovered gems that were obscure even in the years they were released. The thrift store and garage sale flotsam and jetsam, the goofy records we used to chuckle at as we ransacked cardboard boxes looking for first pressings of Pink Floyd or 13th Floor Elevators albums, are now the new drug for vinyl junkies. Lunatic lounge singers, hippie dippy regional folk albums, high school band recordings from the astral plane and scores of vanity projects slapped on wax by the delusional, demented and visionary have always had a fan base among a certain kind of hardcore collector, but the audience for outré coolness on vinyl is expanding as music lovers are demanding more than the umpteenth re-issue of Hendrix and Floyd on 180 gram virgin vinyl. We’re all looking for the next vinyl high, the record that drops our jaws as soon as the needle drops into the groove.
The future of vinyl is as endless as its own past. And man I love it. Among the very best labels resurrecting lost titles from the vinyl crypt is Sundazed Music and their new off-shoot Modern Harmonic. With a focus on loungey exotica, Sun Ra’s interplanetary space jazz, experiments from John Cage and soft-pop chanteuse Margo Guryan, Modern Harmonic’s taste in the offbeat and wonderful is impeccable. That’s particularly true of their latest release Love Is A Drag, a five-decade old lounge record that shatters taboos with its low-key subversion.
Love Is A Drag (“for adult listeners only”) has been veiled in mystery since it was first released in 1962. On the surface it sounds like dozens of similar jazz records of the era fronted by a male vocalist with a seductive style of crooning. What makes Love Is A Drag unique and groundbreaking is that all of the tunes on the album are love songs from one man to another. Titles like “The Boy Next Door” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” are Sinatra-like amorous ballads but from a gay perspective. There’s not a hint of camp or irony in the vocals and the backing band, composed of jazz pros, is playing with heartfelt conviction. The subject matter might be gay, but the artists are playing it straight. That’s what makes Love Is A Drag so unusual. It’s not a novelty record played for laughs. It’s as sincere as anything recorded by any A-list lounge singer celebrating heterosexual romance.
Up until a few years ago no one knew who the singer on Love Is A Drag was. From a professional standpoint singing gay-themed love songs was probably not a great career move in 1962. Though the record sold well in certain circles and had admirers like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope (!), anonymity was essential for the guy doing the vocals, particularly if he was heterosexual and married. Finally, the mystery was solved when the identity of the man behind the songs surfaced when J.D Doyle of the Queer Music Heritage project was contacted by a friend of the singer and shared what he knew. Vocalist Gene Howard who fronted Stan Kenton’s big band was the voice that sang so convincingly of the love that dare not speak its name. Gene died in 1993 so sadly doesn’t know that his legacy lives on thanks to Sundazed.
Love Is A Drag is being released on November 25 as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday event. Even though I own a record store, I avoid Record Store Day for reasons I won’t go into. But this record may be worth fighting the crowds to get your hands on. Or you can wait for it to pop up on eBay and buy it for some inflated amount. Or maybe Sundazed will re-release it for those of us who buy records when and how we want. As a vinyl guy, I can’t imagine owning Love Is A Drag in any other form. Another example of the vinyl revival continuing to surprise and please.
Here’s a last minute Halloween mix for you Dangerous Minds readers. Better late than never, right?
Play it loud to drown out the horrifying squeals of costumed kids as they go into sugar shock on your front porch. On this day in which we remember the dead—many of whom were killed by candy—let’s not forget what is important in life: More candy.
Masalla Burning Feeling
Matchbox Metaphysical Composition
Obo Reed Here By Me
Dick St John Lady Of Burning Green Jade
Local Traffic Time Gone To Waste
Red House Mary-Ann
Masque Wake Up In The Morning
Ragweed Patch Burn The Midnight Oil
Life This Time
First State Bank Mr Sun
Masque Lady Of The Land
Punch Death Head
Flintlock Hope You’re Feeling Better
In The Past
Chestnut Trees & Bumblebees
Tomorrow Night’s Mourning
The video mix starts out with some ultra-groovy sci-fi and slowly descends into the crypts of horror and sleaze with some chopsocky thrown in.
“This is where all my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams.” American artist and banjo player Harper Goff (1911-1993) was a man of many talents with an extraordinary imagination. He set the standard for camouflage colors during WWII, laid the foundation for the Steampunk revolution, conceptualized Disneyland alongside Walt Disney, and created the unforgettable set for Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. However, due to issues with his union card Harper remains uncredited for nearly his entire life’s work.
Living in New York City, Harper Goff worked as a magazine illustrator for Collier’s, Esquire, and National Geographic. Harper’s techniques as well his imagination were groundbreaking even early on. In his paintings, he often refused to use modeling talent but instead incorporated real life village citizens into the details of his colorful works. Friends, family, and neighbors traveled to exotic beachfront estates and vacation spots around the world courtesy of Harper Goff, half of them never even realizing it. During his service in WWII while Harper was working on a do-it-yourself painters kit he was approached by the U.S. Army to develop a set of paint colors that would become the new standard for camouflage. Near the end of the war, he was transferred to the U.S. Navy where his razzle dazzle technique helped confuse the silhouettes of ships taking the idea of camouflage to a whole new level.
When Harper moved to California to work for Warner Brothers Studios he became a set designer on films such as Casablanca, Sergeant York, Charge of the Light Brigade, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Errol Flynn classic Captain Blood. It was while working as an Art Director on Kirk Douglas’ The Vikings that director William Wyler saw in Goff a “character type” and began casting him as an actor. “I showed up wearing a beard, they figured I’d make a good Nordic,” said Harper, who would end up heaving a battle axe at his blonde viking wife in the film. Harper made dozens of appearances in film and television as an actor much to the amusement of his real life blonde wife Flossie. In 1951, while shopping in a London model railroad shoppe Harper had a chance encounter with Walt Disney when they both expressed a mutual interest in purchasing the same model train.
“He turned to me and said, ‘I’m Walt Disney. Are you the man that wanted to buy this engine?’ Well, I almost fell over. He asked me what I do for a living, and I told him that I was an artist. Walt said, ‘I’ve heard of you, but I can’t recall where.’” It turned out Walt Disney had seen some of Harper’s illustrations in Esquire magazine and had always admired them. Disney said, “Give me a call me when you get back to the States.” Ultimately Walt bought the locomotive and hired Harper to illustrate the earliest concept artwork and renderings for his proposed “Mickey Mouse Park” (originally intended to be constructed in Burbank). “I liked the idea of working with Walt Disney, and when I called him he began to explain his idea for a kiddie-land near the Studio — perhaps with a steam train connected to Traveland across the L.A. River. He wanted to build something adults could enjoy along with their children.”
Walt sent Harper on a three-month “information gathering” journey to amusement parks all across the United States. “They were dirty places and it was hard to imagine what Walt had in mind creating. I said to him when I got back, ‘Walt, I don’t think this type of environment is what you want,’ and he replied, ‘Mine will be immaculate and the staff will be young and polite,’ then I realized he could do it.” Orange County was eventually chosen as the site for Disneyland and Harper, who was dubbed the “Second Imagineer” envisioned the look and feel of the theme park. Harper used his hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado as the main influence for Disneyland’s City Hall, and his Art Director experience on the film Calamity Jane to design the Golden Horseshoe Saloon.
Harper Goff’s influence on the Adventureland portion of the theme park cannot be overstated, particularly on the ride the Jungle Cruise. In Harper’s own words: “We began to think of hippos and other animals which could be operated without wires and still have animated elements. We brought in Bob Matte, who later created the shark for Jaws to engineer the original animals. I also worked with Bill and Jack Evans on buying expeditions for the landscaping. We would call cities to see if they were tearing out trees for improvements and go and buy them — we got many that way.” While making trips back and forth between Burbank and the Evans and Reeves Nursery in West L.A. they’d pass a house in Beverly Hills that had spectacular tree in the front yard. Harper and Jack believed it’d be the perfect finishing touch to the Jungle Cruise ride. “Finally, I thought what have we got to lose, and I had Jack Evans stop while I went in to ask the people if they would consider selling it. I told the owner we would replace it with a flowerbed or anything they wanted and surprisingly enough the owner told me yes — it was blocking the sunlight and view coming through his windows and we could just come and take it away… it was the tree that went around the original Burmese Temple, and we got it for nothing.”
I think many us have been there: broke and looking for any kind of gig that will get us enough money to make it from one day to another. I did phone sales of subscriptions to a right wing Orange County newspaper. I was 16 and living on the streets of L.A. and needed money… badly. I worked with a dozen or so runaway kids sitting in a miserable loft dialing numbers all day and spewing made up stories of how the subscription revenue was going to help our high school build a new gym (I was a high school dropout) or help Vietnam vets get back on their feet (if they still had any). I lied all day, every day. And for all my bullshitting, I rarely walked with any money. The lying was easy. I read from a script. When I got really bored, I’d improvise. Back then people were polite on the phone. A lot of them bought into my rap. I couldn’t stand myself. I didn’t last a week. Selling beat drugs on Sunset to weekend hippies seemed like a slightly better karmic option.
Andrea Arnold’s powerful, poetic and liberating new movie American Honey deals with “mag crews,” young people going door to door in mostly affluent neighborhoods selling magazine subscriptions, using lies and artful scams to make a few bucks. For every subscription sold, the magazine clearing houses and publishers get a percentage and the rest is split between crew leaders and the kids doing the selling. Whatever hook it takes to sell a subscription—school projects, charities, scholarships, etc.—is used to separate a customer from their money. Selling magazine subscriptions in the digital age is hardly a ticket to the big time. But desperate times require desperate measures… even when they’re stupid.
Director Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road) first discovered the mag crew world when she read Ian Urbina’s article on the subject in the New York Times. She decided to make a movie based on the article. She flew from England to America, rented a car, and drove alone along 1000s of miles of America’s highways. She saw all of the things that make America beautiful, wretched, intimidating and heartbreaking. She encountered hopelessness in a lot of small towns that have gone to hell because of poverty and drugs—the kind of drugs that become intertwined with a sense of there being no future.
American Honey follows a mag crew as they make the kind of trip that Arnold made. A small family of lost souls traveling across America getting stoned, singing along to rap, rock and country songs, living in the moment while the quiet dread of the unknown permeates the air like invisible thunderclouds. At times exhilarating, often tense and foreboding, American Honey subverts most of the viewer’s expectations at every turn. The film seems bleak on the surface but rays of light are constantly breaking through the darkness. Underneath the hardened exterior of these kids are layers of softness, sweetness and pain. Cuddling and sleeping together in sleazy motel rooms they appear as they are: children.
Blue Diamond Sales is typical of the kind of companies that use mag crews to generate revenue. Their website paints a rosy picture of the road to success:
Blue diamond subscriptions sells door to door subscriptions to magazines and books. Blue diamond travels the entire country helping young adults who wish to earn experience in the sales industry.
But their YouTube channel gets closer to reality:
The mag crews are tight knit bands with an almost cult-like devotion to their crew leaders—very much like a hooker’s relationship to their pimp. They travel in small groups in battered vans, crisscrossing America desperate to grab hold of the lowest rung of the American dream. From hustling truckers at truck stops to millionaire good ol’ boy ranchers and lonely, extremely horny guys working the oil fields of Oklahoma, the girls in American Honey go to where the money and easy marks are. These scenes are filled with tension, effectively tapping into the audience’s horror flick presumptions. But this is not a slasher film. The knives are psychological and go deeper beyond bone and flesh into the seat of the soul. A scene where a little girl in an Iron Maiden t-shirt sings The Dead Kennedys’ “I Kill Children” while her crackhead mother lies comatose in the background makes the torture porn of “Human Centipede” seem like “Happy Days” with hemorrhoidal itch. Reality has now entered a zone that even horror movies struggle to find resonant metaphors.
The mag crews aren’t much different than many of the kids who ended up in The Haight in 1968, the year after the Summer Of Love. They weren’t looking for an Aquarian age, they were looking to get out of bad situations back home. Many had suffered abuses of every nature. They came to the Haight to hook up with kindred spirits and forge communities. They weren’t hippies but they were open to anything that might give them a sense of better days. A sense of love. Ten years later on New York’s Lower East Side there was a similar influx of suburban kids looking to get away from the soul-deadening schools, shopping malls, and apathy that gutted whatever feelings of freedom they felt entitled to. The crews are a slightly better dressed version of the crusty punks I see camping in the woods behind my store in Austin.
Unlike the hippies or punks, the mag crews haven’t turned their backs on capitalism or the American Dream. The kids in American Honey see Wal-Mart as an oasis in the tattered streets of Crack Town. They want money. And they want it now. Bling is their thing and the rap songs on the movies soundtrack set the tone. These kids are white but their frame of reference is Black. Together they create a sense of mattering. They matter to each other.
Comparisons will be made to the films of Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, but American Honey is more lyrical and less cynical than Kids or Spring Breakers. Clark’s Ken Park has moments of the kind of tenderness and bittersweetness of Arnold’s film. Both movies celebrate humanity over complete despair. And in each film, sex is threatening as well as liberating. Arnold’s point of view is that of a woman who knows from day to day experience that men are unpredictable animals and American Honey is suffused with an atmosphere of sexual peril without being gratuitous or exploitative.
American Honey is three hours long and it rambles and careens like the crews bouncing from state to state in their Econoline van. The length of the film never seems overlong. Its length actually gives the viewer the sense of being along for the ride. There are no big dramatic moments – except for the ones in the audience’s heads. The movie constantly subverts expectations. The drama comes in the small observations and the occasional emotional explosions. All of it moving along to a soundtrack composed of 24 wildly eclectic songs ranging from Kevin Gates to The Raveonettes, Springsteen, Steve Earle, E-40 and Mazzy Star. It all works sublimely and for every moment of suffocating emptiness there’s an epiphany fueled by music, a bottle of cheap whiskey and lots of pot.
American Honey won awards at this year’s Cannes Film Festival including best actress for Sasha Lane. This is her film debut. Shia LaBeouf is perfectly cast as a cocky hustler. Sporting a Confederate flag bikini, Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter) is the cold-hearted crew leader and she’s amazing. The entire cast of non-professional actors ARE the real thing. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is glorious, capturing the American landscape in a fugue-like state between night, day and what lays in between.
American Honey is opening this Friday in a few major cities and then nationwide on October 7. It’s an important movie. One that gets almost everything right about what’s bad and what’s good about America in the era of Trump. Being bombarded by dark prophecies from a sociopath running for President plays into the deeply pessimistic view young people already have of their future. American Honey hints at a way out:love