The terrific Beat This!: A Hip hop History takes us up through roots of hip hop culture starting in the late 1970s in the South Bronx and features Kool Herc, Planet Rock, Kurtis Blow, Jazzy Jay, Afrika Bambaataa, Malcolm McClaren and many more. Great vintage footage of Manhattan, the Bronx, beatboxing, graffiti and breakdancing.
Skip along four years since “A Trip Around Acid House (which I posted yesterday) and you can see the changes which had occurred within the UK’s dance scene. By 1992 raves had become massive outdoor events attracting thousands of punters, they had been cracked down on heavily by the police, and promoters had begun to put on licensed raves with professional security, a police presence and mandatory drug searches to minimise trouble and maximise profit.
BBC North’s Rave follows the set up, running and aftermath of one of these very large (but legal) outdoor raves, and highlights how attitudes had changed between 1992 and 1988. The moral panic surrounding acid house and ecstasy culture had peaked by this point. The police were aware that this new outdoor dancing movement was not something that was going to go away any time soon, so rather than trying to stamp it out they instead focussed on regulating it. It’s interesting to see the individual police officers interviewed in ‘Rave’ and their opinions on the culture - unnerved by the “spaced out” demeanour of the participants, but also very aware that they are not violent and cause very little trouble. There were still the supposedly “moral” campaigners who saw the trend as entirely negative, of course, and campaigned to have any event of this nature shut down due to the supposed dangers of drug “pushers”. The inability to compute that people were taking drugs of their own free will, combined with the relatively harmless effects of those particular drugs, give these campaigners distinct shades Mary Whitehouse. It’s all about looking good rather than engaging with reality.
By 1992 the music had now morphed too - four years on from the happy-go-lucky spirit of acid house (with its sampling of different genres and its embracing of the Balearic scene) the music is more streamlined, and beginning to form more regimented genres like techno and rave itself. DJ Smokey Joe does a pretty good job of describing the difference between the German and Belgian strands of techno in this show:
Acid house - the sound of a Roland TB 303 getting turned up too far that can send the most loved up dancer wild with convulsions of ecstasy . A unique sound accidentally discovered by DJ Pierre and friends in Chicago 25 years ago and that can still wreck dancefloors to this very day. A type of music which for a period of time in the late 80s infested the upper reaches of the UK’s charts and spawned a youth culture all of its own. Let me hear you say ACIEEED!
I was way too young to have any first hand experience of clubbing during the acid house years, but the music and imagery still had a huge effect on my childhood brain . Who couldn’t resist the acid-washed day-glo colours, the oversized clothes, the nods back to hippie culture and the first summer of love, and chart topping tracks from the likes of D-Mob, S’Express, M/A/R/R/S, Yazz, Farley Jackmaster Funk, 808 State, Bomb The Bass and Stakker Humanoid? When I had a chance to buy my own clothes it would be Joe Bloggs, and I had quite the collection of smiley face badges for a kid not yet a teenager. My own pet theory is that disco never had the impact in the UK that it had in the States, but house music and raving had the same effect of democratising the dancefloor ten years later. A large piece of the puzzle was of course the arrival of a new drug called “ecstasy” (actually only made illegal in the UK in 1985), which when combined with the powerful filter sweeps of a TB303 can give the user incredible head rushes. It was this new drug and its implications that seemed to worry the authorities the most.
This great documentary from the BBC’s World in Action strand is like a full blown acid house flashback. Broadcast in 1988 at height of acid house fever, it follows the typical weekend rituals of a group of very young fans, tracks the working life of an illegal party promoter, speaks to some of the producers of the music and charts the the then-growing moral panic which surrounded the scene and its copious drug taking. Raving, and acid house, had a huge (if subtle) effect on British culture, bringing people together in new, democratised contexts free of class and social boundaries, opening people’s ears up to a new world of music and opening their minds to new ideas.
A Trip Round Acid House makes for very interesting viewing at a time when Murdoch Inc and News International stand accused of distorting facts to suit their own means. The program gives a fairly detailed description of how The Sun newspaper did an about face on acid house, going from being supporters of this new youth culture (even selling their own acid house branded t-shirts to decrying it as an outrage that needed to be banned (and as such sold more papers). Some of the other footage here is priceless too, and has popped up on the internet in other forms, such as the classic reaction of two old cockney dears to the description of a typical “rave”. Blimey!
Yesterday, when I posted that great Jonathan Winters interview, I found another episode from the archives of the Day for Night public television series that made me want to jump for joy: A 30-minute interview with the great American humorist S.J. Perelman from 1974. I’ve already watched it twice.
Although he is by now, some thirty-odd years after his death, almost completely forgotten, S.J. Perelman was once considered a very big deal man of letters, up there with greats like George S. Kaufman, James Thurber and E.B. White. Today he is best remembered for something that pained him to be associated with during his lifetime: his screenwriting for the Marx Brothers. (Perelman co-wrote two of their greatest comedies, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, but famously said of his tenure with the Marx Brothers: “I did two films with them, which in its way is perhaps my greatest distinction in life, because anybody who ever worked on any picture for the Marx Brothers said he would rather be chained to a galley oar and lashed at ten-minute intervals until the blood spurted from his frame than ever work for those sons of bitches again.”)
An admirer of both Ring Lardner and James Joyce, Perelman’s deliriously complicated prose—written mostly for The New Yorker from 1934 until the end of his life—was densely constructed with puns, literary and historical allusions, ridiculous names, foreign phrases and double and triple entendres. For an American, Perelman was a particularly well-traveled and erudite man. He went to the Far East several times in his life and many of his most famous essays are travelogues. Perelman usually wrote in the first person, portraying himself as a snobby ur-sophisticate beset by his own (unobserved) comic ineptitude. He was a master of the English language with a massive vocabulary that would send readers to their dictionaries several times per page. All of the various idiosyncrasies and uniquely Perelman-esque tropes and over-excessive wordsmithery combined to form a literary style no less distinctive than Shakespeare’s.
It’s next to impossible to accurately describe the S. J. Perelman gestalt, so here are a few choice quotes and passages:
“And you were cruel,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” added Quigley.
“Why did you add Quigley?” I begged him. He apologized and subtracted Quigley, then divided Hogan. We hastily dipped the slices of Hogan into Karo, poured sugar over them, and ate them with relish.
—- From “The Love Decoy”
“Have a bit of the wing, darling?” queried Diana solicitously, indicating the roast Long Island airplane with applesauce. I tried to turn our conversation from the personal note, but Diana would have none of it. Soon we were exchanging gay banter over the mellow Vouvray, laughing as we dipped fastidious fingers into the Crisco parfait for which Diana was famous. Our meal finished, we sauntered into the play-room and Diana turned on the radio. With a savage snarl the radio turned on her and we slid over the waxed floor in the intricate maze of the jackdaw strut.
—- From “Strictly from Hunger”
Love is not the dying moan of a distant violin, it’s the triumphant twang of a bedspring.
Woody Allen absolutely revered Perelman and Allen’s early New Yorker pieces often read like he was trying to ape the humorist’s distinctive prose style. Through the rediscovery of the Marx Brothers that occurred in the late1960s on college campuses and Allen’s constant championing of Perelman’s work, his star rose again towards the end of his life. When I was a kid, his books were readily stocked in every library and bookstore. His name and fame were widely known. Today there is but a single book of his in print, the anthology The Most of S.J. Perelman (with an introduction by Steve Martin) although all of his books can be easily found used online.
This interview with S.J. Perelman is a gem. It’s always fascinating to hear a writer’s voice you admire for the first time and I must admit that Perelman’s heavy New York accent is not what I expected (I suppose I always heard his voice as having a British accent in my mind’s ear.)
Below the famous passport scene from Monkey Business:
51 stuffed dogs is the big draw at Castle Bitov in the Czech Republic. Canine lover Baron Georg Haas preserved his pets for eternity and now tourists from all over the planet can enjoy his bizarre collection of dead doggies.
Read more about the K9 crazy Baron at the The Daily Mail’s website
Polaroid portraits of Truman Capote and William s. Burrooughs shot by Andy Warhol
There is a fascinating, well-researched article by Thom Robinson over at the might Reality Studio blog devoted to all things William S. Burroughs. Robinson is a British PhD candidate who has extensively researched Burroughs.
After setting up the backstory with anecdotes involving the mutual distaste that Burroughs (who apparently disliked effeminate homosexuals) felt for Capote (who might have snubbed Burroughs with Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles in Tangier), Robinson relates the tale of a “curse” Burroughs placed on Capote’s literary talents in the form of an extraordinarily spiteful two-page “Open Letter to Truman Capote,” a copy of which now resides in the Burroughs Archive of the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection:
Burroughs’ “letter” begins with an explanation to Capote that his “is not a fan letter in the usual sense.” Acting as spokesman for a “department” with apparent responsibility for determining writers’ fates, Burroughs announces that he has followed Capote’s “literary development from its inception” and, in the line of duty, has conducted exhaustive inquiries comparable to those undertaken by Capote in his research for In Cold Blood. An engagingly surreal touch finds Burroughs reporting that these inquiries have included interviewing all of Capote’s fictional characters “beginning with Miriam” (the title character of Capote’s breakthrough story of 1945). Referring to “the recent exchange of genialities” between Capote and Kenneth Tynan, Burroughs concludes that Tynan “was much too lenient.” Going one step further than Tynan and accusing Capote of acting as an apologist for hard-line methods of police interrogation (and thus supporting those “who are turning America into a police state”), Burroughs next turns to the question of Capote’s writing abilities. Avowing that Capote’s early short stories were “in some respects promising,” Burroughs suggests Capote could have made positive use of his talents, presumably by applying them to the expansion of human consciousness (“You were granted an area for psychic development”). Instead, Burroughs finds that Capote has sold out a talent “that is not yours to sell.” In retribution for having misused “the talent that was granted you by this department”, Burroughs starkly warns “That talent is now officially withdrawn,” signing off with the sinister admonition, “You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished.”
It should be noted that, at the time of writing, Burroughs was a credulous believer in the efficacy of curses (famously believing he had successfully used tape recorders to close down a London restaurant where he had received bad service). Regardless of how seriously Burroughs intended his prediction for Capote’s future, his words proved eerily prescient. After the publication of In Cold Blood, Capote announced work on an epic novel entitled Answered Prayers, intended as a Proustian summation of the high society world to which he had enjoyed privileged access over the previous decades. The slim existing contents were eventually published posthumously while one of the few extracts which saw publication within Capote’s lifetime notoriously employed Capote’s habit of indiscretion to disastrous effect. When “La Côte Basque, 1965″ was published by Esquire in 1975, Capote’s betrayal of the confidences of friends (who recognized the identities lurking beneath the veneer of fictionalized characters) resulted in swift exile from the celebrity world which Capote had courted for much of his career.
Given Burroughs’ curse on Capote, it is interesting to note that, in the years before his death, Capote’s dismissive views on Burroughs’ work became even more damning: “Norman Mailer thinks William Burroughs is a genius, which I think is ludicrous beyond words. I don’t think William Burroughs has an ounce of talent.” By the time these remarks were recorded by Lawrence Grobel in Conversations with Capote, successful canvassing by Mailer among others had resulted in Burroughs’ admission to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1983. After a long decline, wrought by the inability to break a harrowing cycle of alcohol and barbiturate abuse, Capote died the following year at the age of 59.
In Cold Blood: William Burroughs’ Curse on Truman Capote (Reality Studio)
A classic 70s Dolls performance caught by ace rock photographer Bob Gruen. Here the lipstick killers do “Who Are the Mystery Girls?’’ at The Matrix in San Francisco.
Thank the gods Gruen had his video camera trained on the New York Dolls in their prime. Because of him, moments like this exist for posterity. Video cameras were rare at that time and this video was no doubt shot on the ancient half-inch open reel format. Compared to today’s HD cameras, lugging something like that around would be like strapping a vacuum cleaner to your back. Very unwieldy beasties they were.
Laughing Squid posted these incredible photos of a 1960s “Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs Identification Kit.” Apparently the kit, manufactured by Winston Products for Education, was used in schools to teach kids about the dangers of drugs. In all honesty though, this kit showcases drugs a little like a candy store. It also reminds me strongly of the work of visionary painter Paul Laffoley. It’s a work of art!
Another gem from the BBC vaults via Adam Curtis’s blog: The Rock and Roll Singer, a documentary from 1969 that follows down-on-his-luck American rock and roller Gene Vincent for the first four days of a low budget English tour:
Gene Vincent had been a massive star only ten years before, but now much of that had gone and he takes you into a very British world of small dance halls on the Isle of Wight, cheap hotels where he has to tell the woman on the desk that he will be sharing with his roadie, and a rehearsal room in the basement of a pub in Croydon - where the walls are lined with old mattresses, plus a fantastic touring van.
It is just a wonderful film, full of long hand-held takes - and at the end you watch a man completely exhausted by his performance backstage in a tiny dance hall, and he really doesn’t want to do it any more. But then the promoter comes up from the darkness and leads Vincent like a child, by the hand, back onstage to do an encore.
Less than eighteen months later Vincent died - because an ulcer burst in his stomach.