Leonard Cohen’s new album Old Ideas is being released next Tuesday. The critical reception has been ecstatic. Which thrills me because I have loved Cohen from the moment I heard “Suzanne” when I was 15 years old. He’s been a massive influence on my own music. My debt to him is deep.
Here’s something to hold you Cohen fans over until Old Ideas release: a brilliant performance by Mr. Cohen on Austin City Limits from 1988.
This French documentary from 1992 is an enjoyable overview of Brigitte Bardot’s forays into pop music. It features insightful interviews with Bardot, Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, as well as dozens of clips of Bardot’s appearances in TV shows, Scopitones and movies.
Needless to say (though I’m saying it), Bardot was not much of a singer. But her willingness to poke fun at her sex kitten image and serve as a comedic and visual foil to the gruff machismo of Gainsbourg makes it easy to forgive her limitations as a vocalist and appreciate her sassy self-awareness. She’s having fun and so are we. One gets the impression that Bardot was perfectly content with her status as a pop icon, leaving the existential Sturm und Drang to her chain-smoking, brooding co-star.
“As an obsessional artist I fear everything I see. At one time, I dreaded everything I was making.”—Kusama interviewed in BOMB magazine in 1999.
You may have seen some of the lovely, now-viral shots of renowned Japanese Pop/Minimalist/AbEx artist Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room installation at the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art, in which children are handed colored polka dots stickers at the museum’s entrance with which to deface a pure-white-painted living-room.
Whimsical as those images are, it’s important to remember that Kusama’s pattern-obsessed work reflects her career of art-as-therapy in response to a life marked by childhood abuse early on and mental illness throughout. As someone who’s both seen a measure of fame in New York City’s underground art scene in the ‘60s that rivaled Warhol’s, and lived in a mental institution in Japan for the past 34 years, Kusama strikes a remarkable figure. The raising of her profile in the US has been a long time coming for the 83-year-old.
Heather Lenz’s forthcoming documentary, Kusama: Princess of Polka Dots, promises to more fully flesh out the story of Japan’s most popular living artist. The film’s slated for a summer 2012 release to coincide with the arrival of a Kusama retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
After the jump: check out Kusama’s Self Obliteration, a portrait of the artist at one of her peak periods…
Ciao! Manhattan director David Weisman claims that this is “the only known footage of the inside of Max’s Kansas City.” Of course, he’s not including all the films and videos of performances shot at Max’s. But those don’t reveal what the club as a whole looked like.
A brief glimpse into New York’s epicenter of cool when everything and everyone seemed larger than life.
Viva, Richie Berlin, Ara Gallant and Paul America make fleeting appearances. This was shot in the late Sixties. Weisman narrates.
It was art out of chaos. Pop art. The Sweet‘s “Ballrooom Blitz”, Glam Rock’s catchiest, trashiest, most lovable song, came from a riot that saw the band bottled off the stage, at the Grand Hall, Palace Theater, Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1973. Men spat, while women screamed to drown out the music. Not the response expected for a group famous for their string of million sellers hits, “Little Willy”, “Wig-Wag Bam” and the number 1, “Block Buster”.
Why it happened has since led to suggestions that the band’s appearance in eye-shadow, glitter and lippy (in particular the once gorgeous bass player Steve Priest) was all too much for the hard lads and lassies o’ Killie.
It’s a possible. Priest thinks so, and said as much in his autobiography Are You Ready Steve?. But it does raise the question, why would an audience pay money to see a band best known through their numerous TV appearances for their outrageously camp image? Especially if these youngsters were such apparent homophobes? Moreover, this was 1973, when the UK seemed on the verge of revolution, engulfed by money shortages, food shortages, strike action, power cuts and 3-day-weeks, and the only glimmer of hope for millions was Thursday night and Top of the Pops.
Another possible was the rumor that Sweet didn’t play their instruments, and were a manufactured band like The Monkees. A story which may have gained credence as the band’s famous song-writing duo of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, preferred using session musicians to working with artists.
The sliver of truth in this rumor was that Sweet only sang on the first 3 Chinn-Chapman singles (“Funny, Funny”, “Co-Co” and “Poppa Joe”). It wasn’t until the fourth, “Little Willy” that Chinn and Chapman realized Sweet were in fact far better musicians than any hired hands, and allowed the band to do what they did best - play.
True, Chinn and Chapman gave Sweet their Midas touch, but it came at a cost. The group was dismissed by self-righteous music critics as sugar-coated pop for the saccharine generation. A harsh and unfair assessment. But in part it may also explain the audience’s ire.
In an effort to redefine themselves, Sweet tended to avoid playing their pop hits on tour, instead performing their own songs, the lesser known album tracks and rock covers. A band veering from the songbook of hits (no matter how great the material) was asking for trouble. As Freddie Mercury proved at Live Aid, when Queen made their come-back, always give the audience what they want.
Still, Glam Rock’s distinct sound owes much to Andy Scott’s guitar playing (which has been favorably compared to Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), Steve Priest’s powerful bass, and harmonizing vocals, and Mick Tucker’s inspirational drums (just listen to the way he references Sandy Nelson in “Ballroom Blitz”). Add in Brian Connolly’s vocals, and it is apparent Sweet were a band with talents greater than those limned by their chart success.
So what went wrong?
If ever there was a tale of a band making a pact with the Devil, then the rise and fall of Sweet could be that story. A tale of talent, excess, fame, money, frustration and then the decline into alcohol, back-taxes, death and disaster. Half of the band is now tragically dead: Connolly, who survived 14 heart attacks caused through his alcoholism, ended his days a walking skeleton, touring smaller venues and holiday camps with his version of Sweet; while the hugely under-rated Tucker sadly succumbed to cancer in 2002.
The remaining members Priest and Scott, allegedly don’t speak to each other and perform with their own versions of The Sweet on 2 different continents. Priest lives in California, has grown into an orange haired-Orson, while Scott, who always looked like he worked in accounts, is still based in the UK, and recently overcame prostate cancer to present van-hire adverts on the tube.
This then is the real world of pop success.
I doubt they would ever change it. And I doubt the fans would ever let them. So great is the pact with the devil of celebrity that once made, one is forever defined by the greatest success.
Back to that night, in a theater in Kilmarnock, when the man at the back said everyone attack, and the room turned into a ballroom blitz. Whatever the cause of the chaos, it gave Glam Rock a work of art, and Sweet, one of their finest songs.
Bonus ‘Block Buster’ plus documentary on Brian Connolly, after the jump…
This headline reads like a spoof from the Onion, but it’s not. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. From the Metro:
The Daily Mirror reports he told the crowd before singing Meat Is Murder: ‘We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 dead.
‘Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried S*** every day.’
Has Moz been listening to too much Glenn Beck? FFS, lighten UP Morrissey!
“The Wanna Be Oddie” is a short animated film made by Ben Lam as his MFA project at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In it, he masterfully appropriates certain qualities of vintage, black and white animation, then updates them with 3D graphics and a kooky homage to Transformers, for one of the most charming animations I’ve seen in some time. Thoroughly modern, yet retro (in the best sense), too.
When I was a little kid, I used to collect silent movie comedies on Super 8 film from Blackhawk Films. I’d project them on the wall in my parent’s basement and I’d watch them over and over again. I really studied them and I must say, Ben Lam must’ve watched the same stuff, because he really perfectly abstracts and captures the “vintageness” (and all that would imply) of Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, early Mickey Mouse, Ub Iwerks and Max Fleischer cartoons. He didn’t just slap a scratch filter over his animation, in other words, there’s some organic magic happening here that really puts his work at the head of the class. When you get the small details right, the bigger picture is so much more vivid.
Even in this crappy job market, I’m sure a talent like Ben’s was snapped up by the likes of Pixar, post haste. If this was a Coca-Cola commercial and only the difference was that the vending machine and bottles were red and sported logos, not much would change, and it would still be just as great.
Stated differently, If advertising was this cool, I wouldn’t tune it out.
“Come Fly With Me” by Larry Tee and the Love Machine, is yet another of the low budgetmusic videos I co-directed with Alan Henderson in the 80s. The video for this club kid anthem featured RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Lahoma Van Zandt, “Party Monster” Michael Alig, Vanity Fair‘s George Wayne, Justine Cooper, Amy Mellon, DJ Keoki, and many more people whose names I can’t recall. The brunette with the great eyes later played Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriend in a few episodes of Seinfeld. I think this was made in 1989.
The “Kaleidoscope” digital effects device was new on the market then and we used the crap out of it, here. This was made and mastered on analog tape. It’s not impressive now, but before you had After Effects, you had to be a maniac to attempt something like this. Larry Tee was later responsible for RuPaul’s “Supermodel” song and is an in-demand DJ and remixer who has recently worked with Lady Gaga. The infectious bassline sample is from “Reach Out in the Darkness” by Friend & Lover.
I’ve never watched a soap opera in my life. But if this is what I’ve been missing, I suddenly feel a sense of loss and deprivation. This clip from The Guiding Light is like something concocted by John Waters in the midst of a Sirkian wet dream.
Apparently, this scene thrust actress Kim Zimmer into the realm of soap opera super stardom and won her a Daytime Emmy Award. She deserved it.
Just thought I would check in and report on how it’s going on the other side of the world on this momentous day. And I just LOVE this “Prairie-Dog Rapture” pic! Well, so far so good… unless you are a fundie, I guess. No sign of any earthquakes or bodies being mysteriously sucked up into the sky. Yet. There’s still two hours to go ‘til the official kick-off time so you never know, it might happen, but reports from the expanses of the planet that have already hit that 6pm deadline report nothing unusual. Oh, wait, there WERE a couple of earthquakes in the Pacific, but they were small (3-4 on the Richter scale, surely not God bothering size?) and apparently there tends to be a small earthquake somewhere in the Pacific every day anyway.
I am in Ireland at the moment and interestingly (for such a predominantly Catholic country) no one seems too fussed by this whole rapture malarky. Maybe the populace have had other things to think about. This week has seen a royal visit by Queen Elizabeth, the first visit to this isle of a British monarch since Ireland fought for, and won, independence way back in 1922. Now THAT is a momentous occasion. People who would normally be described as “patriots” and who within their own lifetimes have seen periods of real animosity against the British were seen cooing and ahhing at the British monarch’s presence. There were protests, of course, but the turnouts were small, estimated at around the 200 mark. This is what they looked like from the inside:
By all accounts the visit was a roaring success. Liz had a tour of ghostly Dublin, where roads were blocked off to keep people away from her highness. She was brought to Croke Park, the 80,000+ capacity sports arena that has a very special significance in the history of Irish nationalism. Bought by the Gaelic Athletics Association in 1913, it was used to encourage the playing of indigenous sports hurling and Gaelic football (at a time when the country was under strict British rule) and was seen as a hotbed of anti-British conspiracy by the then powers-that-be. It was at Croke Park that the infamous original Bloody Sunday occurred in 1921 when, in retaliation for a number of assassinations by the IRA, the British army and the Royal Irish Constabulary indiscriminately shot into the crowd during a Dublin-Tipperary football match killing 13 spectators and the Tipperary football captain. It was this incident that turned the tide of the war of independence against the British and ultimately led to the withdrawal of British troops from most of the island. The fact that the Queen visited this specific arena says a lot about how far relations between the Irish and the English have come in the resulting ninety years.
Her Madge also stopped off at the Coolmore Stud, the world’s largest breeding centre for thoroughbred horses, and in Cork city made a visit to its famous English Market. That bit was of particular significance to me, as my mother’s family have had a fruit and vegetable stall there for over 100 years. The English Market is a beautiful, hidden treasure in the vastly under-rated city (Cork is MUCH nicer than Dublin!) and could dearly use a boost in visits and trade in this era of multinationalization.
The English Market - the white haired man is my uncle.
Even more excitingly though, for me and a lot of people other people anyway, on Monday we will be being graced by a visit from President of the United States and the First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama. It’s only a flying visit really, as he is on his way to the UK for 4 days, but while here he will be travelling to County Offaly to look up some of his ancestors, and giving a public address on College Green in Dublin city centre. I expect the turn out for this to be very strong, and even though there will be a stepped up security presence, I really don’t think he has anything to worry about. In fact I think he will be greeted by a very warm Irish welcome, something that eluded President Bush a few years back. I won’t be here then, unfortunately, but the Irish media will be supplying day-long rolling coverage of his visit if you are interested in watching. I expect there to be protests too, but they will most likely be Queen-sized.
Anyway, so where was I… oh yes! The Rapture. Hmm, well there’s still a bit of time to kill before believers get hoovered up (or not). If there is any breaking news on this side of the pond I will dutifully report it. Or I might not actually, preferring to spend that time with my family. But for some reason or other all day I just haven’t been able to get this bloody song out of my mind. Any ideas why? Answers in a comment to the usual address…