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‘Hey Good Looking Boy’: Roxy Music in the 1970s
08:51 am


Roxy Music
Bryan Ferry

Even after all these years, listening to those early albums produced by Roxy Music is like hearing music from an as yet to be imagined future. The shocking originality of their debut single “Virginia Plain” through to “Pyjamarama,” “Street Life,” “Do the Strand,” “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” and “Mother of Pearl” are fresher and better than nearly everything pumped out today.

At the heart of Roxy Music is Bryan Ferry, the chief song-writer and lead singer, a working class lad, born in Washington, Tyne and Wear in the north of England. His father was from a farm and his mother from the town, and as he once explained in an interview with the Nottingham Post, his father:

“...used to court [his mother] on a plough horse for ten years before they got married. It was very old-fashioned.”

Music was just a noise to his father, but to his mother it was a passion. She had her favorites and a liking for some rock ‘n’ roll, even taking her young son to see Bill Haley and The Comets in the 1950s. But Ferry preferred jazz and soul, and after hitch-hiking from his home town in 1967 to see Otis Redding perform in London, he decided that he had to become a singer.

At school Ferry had felt that he was “an oddity” but wasn’t until he started studying Fine Art at Newcastle University that his creative ambitions came into focus. Under the tutelage of noted British Pop artist Richard Hamilton, Ferry became more confident in his own talents and began writing songs. These were at first influenced by Hamilton’s pop aesthetic, best heard in songs like “Virginia Plain” which was inspired by a painting Ferry had made of a packet of cigarettes (Virginia Plain was a brand of cigarette).

After a few false starts with The Banshees and then Gasboard, Ferry formed Roxy Music with friend Graham Simpson in 1970, being quickly joined by saxophonist/oboist Andy Mackay and Brian Eno on tapes and synthesiser. By the summer of 1972, Roxy Music had their first top five single, and Ferry’s teenage hopes of pop success were sealed,

This compilation of concerts from German TV’s Beat Club and Musicladen captures Roxy Music at their height of their powers in the mid-1970s, with the suave tuxedoed Bryan Ferry leading the band through hits like “Street Life,” “Virginia Plain” and “Mother of Pearl.” Close you eyes and you’ll think this is tomorrow calling…


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Charlie Rich declares war on John Denver and pop-country at the 1975 CMAs—or does he?
08:40 am


Charlie Rich
John Denver

Charlie Rich and John Denver
Fans of rock music and hip-hop love to reminisce over aberrant behavior at awards ceremonies, whether it’s Jarvis Cocker cheekily interrupting a “messianic” Michael Jackson production number at the 1996 Brit Awards, Kanye West running roughshod over Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, or Ol’ Dirty Bastard upstaging Shawn Colvin at the 1998 Grammies with his insistent reminder that “Wu-Tang is for the children!”

One doesn’t associate such antics with the Country Music Awards, but when it comes to unscripted shows of disrespect, the CMAs may well boast the grandaddy of ‘em all. In 1975 Charlie Rich pulled a stunt so magnificently contemptuous, country music fans are still arguing over what Rich meant by it.

In order to appreciate the moment, a little background is in order. Like many musical genres—metal, punk, and rap come immediately to mind—country music has its perennial battles over who represents the heart of the genre, pitting the old-school likes of, say, Johnny Cash against those pop singers who represented the “sellout” impulse of watered-down country-lite in order to appeal to a much larger audience. During the mid-1970s country music was going through a civil war of sorts between the “authentic” core of the art form and the audience-ready pap that was threatening to dilute the genre’s identity. In 1974 Charlie Rich had won the CMA for “Entertainer of the Year”—nobody could argue with his country music bona fides—while “Female Vocalist of the Year” had gone to Olivia Newton-John, a figure about whom one could fairly argue whether she had anything to do with country music at all. Disgruntlement could be discerned in the farthest reaches country music industry. As “Trigger” at the Saving Country Music website states,

At the 1974 CMA Awards, a firestorm erupted when Olivia-Newton John was awarded the “Female Vocalist of the Year.” This created a backlash, including many traditional country stars met at the house of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and decided to form “ACE” or the Association of Country Entertainers to attempt to fight the influx of pop stars into the genre.

A year later, when it came time for Rich, as the reigning award-winner, to present the award to the 1975 Entertainer of the Year, he came fully prepared to make a strong point. Taking the stage after Glen Campbell’s intro, Rich, in his unsteady, slurred vocal patterns, betrayed signs of recent intoxication—it is said that Rich had been enjoying gin and tonics backstage. After reading aloud the nominees—John Denver (punctuated with a loooong deadpan pause), Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, and Conway Twitty—Rich managed to peel apart the envelope. After glimpsing the name of the 1975 winner, Rich suavely produced a Zippo lighter from a pocket, set the card on fire, and, smirking, coolly intoned, “My friend, Mr. John Denver!” Poor Denver, whose cheerful visage was being piped in from distant Australia—yet another sign of his distance from the country music scene?—clearly had little way of knowing what had happened.
Charlie Rich
Wait—he set fire to the card?! When you watch the video, you can see no small defiance in Rich’s eyes, and the audience laughs at the gesture, as it will laugh at anything odd and unexpected. But what did Rich mean by it? At this point we get varying interpretations. The Country Music Hall of Fame has this to say about the incident:

At which point he pulled out his Zippo lighter and set fire to the card holding the name of his successor. Rich held the burning card up for the cameras on the nationally televised live show and smiled a big smile of triumph. The message to anyone watching seemed clear: in Rich’s eyes, a West Coast neo-folkie like John Denver, who had built his career on pop radio, was not welcome in country music.

As Rolling Stone points out, not everyone agrees that Rich was looking to make so strong a statement, in particular Rich’s own son:

Most people interpret the event as a protest against country music’s pop crossover (the CMA blacklisted him from future shows), but Rich’s son disagrees, blaming the incident on an accidental combination of prescription pain medication and a few too many gin and tonics: “Anybody that knows anything at all about the history of my father will know that it simply wasn’t in his mind set to judge someone for not being ‘country enough,’ ‘blues enough,’ rock enough’ or ‘anything enough.’”

Charlie Rich Jr.‘s lengthy and eloquent account can be found on his website—it’s well worth reading for anyone interested in the affair. He claims that his dad disliked the competition implied by doling out awards for art, was fond of Denver, never had a bad thing to say about any musician, and was on pain medication on the night of the show due to broken bones in his foot.

This defense is undercut by Rich’s own statement, at the start of his remarks, that the CMA in his hand is “the most beautiful thing in the world right here.” Personally, I think the gesture was partly a joke, partly the result of mixing meds and booze, and partly a sincere expression of annoyance at the notion of John Denver as a country music legend—it’s everything mixed up together. Rich may not have realized that the “statement” value of the gesture would tend to outweigh every other part of it, that observers would be eager to emphasize the anger inherent in it over every other impulse. For me, it remains a beautifully ambiguous gesture, combining both anger and whimsy, and is all the more resonant for being impossible to pin down. 

H/T The Little Lighthouse radio program

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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The Making of an Underground Film: Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol and a ‘topless’ Velvet Underground

There is simply too much pork for the fork in this wild CBS Evening News report on the then-new phenomenon of “underground films” from New Year’s Eve of 1965/66.

Seen here are Piero Heliczer filming the Velvet Underground, along with testimony from Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, a gorgeous young Edie Sedgwick, Al Aronowitz (the rock journo who introduced The Beatles to Dylan—and pot), Willard Van Dyke of the Museum of Modern Art, Chuck Wein, even shirtless and bodypainted Lou Reed and John Cale. Angus MacLise, who was still in the group when this was shot makes an appearance as well.

I think it’s safe to say that this is probably the first and so far at least, only time an excerpt from a Stan Brakhage film was ever shown on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Thank you Michael Simmons!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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A slightly bombed Dennis Hopper bemoans the fate of his feature ‘The Last Movie’
09:14 am


Dennis Hopper
The Last Movie

Sometimes Dennis Hopper was a whiner who played the James Dean role of angsty misunderstood outsider, blaming his woes on “the man,” or those philistines in Hollywood who didn’t appreciate his art. He had a point, but in his younger days, he was often infuriatingly naive about how life and Hollywood worked. Sure, he had talent, he had ambition, but he also had (by his own admission) a big mouth and no power—which can be a major drawback to those who seek to change the world.

After the success of Easy Rider, Hollywood thought they could exploit Hopper’s success by hiring him to make another movie, a kind of Easy Rider 2. They didn’t care what it was about so long as it made them money, lots of money. But when rumors about Hopper’s drug-addled unreliability spread through Tinsel Town, and certain studios withdrew their offers of finance damned fast. Even his gun-toting music producer friend Phil Spector walked away from stumping up dollars for Dennis after he was reminded about the actor/director’s incredible appetite for drugs. It was therefore a surprise when Universal (home of Frankenstein and Dracula) gave Hopper a million to make The Last Movie.

Hopper planned to make his movie-within-a-movie 14,000 feet up the Peruvian Andes, in a tiny village called Chinchero, which should have made the accountants nervous, not just because of the logistics involved in transporting crew, actors, and film gear to this faraway location, but because Peru was one of the world’s leading producers of cocaine. But as Hopper had signed up for a small salary and a share of the profits, Universal agreed. However, a hint of what was to come during the filming was witnessed by some of the press, who accompanied cast and crew on the flight out, as Hopper and co. started passing round the inordinately large supply of in-flight drugs.

But this was only the start, as on arrival Hopper pissed off the Peruvian government and the Catholic church by proselytizing about the joys of marijuana and speaking out in support of homosexuality. Of course, he was right on both counts, but it meant he had two major enemies determined to have this “hippie revolutionary” kicked out of their country. Government spies were sent into Chinchero to watch the filming in the hope of finding evidence to deport Hopper. Understandably, this did not help the already paranoid auteur.

As described in Robert Sellers’ book Hollywood Hellraisers, drugs were cheap in Peru, and “within hours of arriving a crew hand managed to score some cocaine, seven dollars for a packet that cost ten times that in the States. By the first evening some thirty members of the crew were sniffing the stuff, or smoking grass or dropping acid.”

There were wild parties a plenty…. One actor chained a girl to a post because she looked like Joan of Arc and he wanted to re-enact the saint’s immolation. There was also a rumor that another actor almost died when he took too many peyote buds at once.

Hopper managed to get a priest defrocked after involving him in a drug-fueled mass for James Dean, while the locals stripped a horse clean of its meat after it was killed in a riding accident. Filmmaker Kit Carson described the filming:

That whole shoot, that was one of the most out-of-control situations I’ve ever seen.

But Hopper was professional, and finished filming on time and under budget—it was the editing that was to cause his biggest problem. Hopper moved to Taos, New Mexico, to put the whole film together. This was when Universal started seriously worrying about what they had actually paid for. Major arguments ensued, and Hopper went slowly mad in Taos under the influence of drugs and drink. Remarkably he did finish and deliver The Last Movie, which says much for his tenacity, but still, Universal were horrified.

One executive said to Dennis, ‘Great, so you made an artistic film. What are we supposed to do, kill you? Only a dead artist makes money. We’ll only make money on this picture if you die.’ Dennis was livid. ‘Don’t talk to me like that. You’re talking to a paranoiac.’ And he wasn’t joking.

Hopper had made a million-dollar European art house movie for a company who mainly made mass entertainment. His close buddy, Jack Nicholson, was supportive of Hopper, but thought he gone about the whole thing the wrong way:

You don’t take someone’s bread and then walk across the street and say “Fuck you.”

The Last Movie won the Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival, but bombed in America with both audiences and critics. Though it’s an indulgent movie, with a rather simplistic message, I’m still glad Hopper made it, as it pushed the boundaries of what could be made in Hollywood. Unfortunately, it ended Hopper’s career for the next ten years.

So that’s the back story to this little clip of a slightly bombed Hopper, who having won his award still knows what Universal and the critics think of his film, as he discusses The Last Movie with baseball player Willie Mays, actors James Brolin and Diane Baker, on The Merv Griffin Show from 1971.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Nick Cave talks songwriting, Hell-fire and redemption but tells no jokes

Nick Cave lost his innocence watching Johnny Cash sing. He was about nine or ten years of age, living with his librarian mother and teacher father in rural Wangaratta, in Victoria, Australia. Cave didn’t know much about rock ‘n’ roll, but watching Johnny Cash sing on TV, he suddenly realized:

...that music could be an evil thing, a beautiful, evil thing.

For me it was very much the way he began the show. He’d have his back to you in silhouette, dressed all in black, and he’d swing around and say “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash”. There was something that struck me about him, and about the way my parents shifted around uncomfortably.

After joining the school choir, Cave harbored his own ambitions for a career in music. His first major success came with The Birthday Party, five chaotic individuals in search of a tune, where Cave unleashed his own “evil thing,” a vision of hell, fueled by drink, drugs, and his constant reading of the Hell-fire and damnation of the Old Testament.

The brutality of the Old Testament inspired me, the stories and grand gestures. I wrote that stuff up and it influenced the way I saw the world. What I’m trying to say is I didn’t walk around in a rage thinking God is a hateful god. I was influenced by looking at the Bible, and it suited me in my life vision at the time to see things in that way. .... After a while I started to feel a little kinder and warmer to the world, and at the same time started to read the New Testament.

Cave was smart enough to know this “solipsism of youth” couldn’t last, and after the band split he returned to home. After a few months, fellow Birthday Party musician, Mick Harvey, suggested they form a band, and so was born Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

While we wait for the full release of the biographical drama-documentary on Nick Cave, 20,000 Days on Earth, this edition of Melvyn Bragg’s The South Bank from 2003, presents a revealing portrait of the singer, poet, author, actor, and screenwriter. Cave discusses his influences (from Cash and John Lee Hooker to Nina Simone), inspirations for songs, the key moments in his life, and the importance of being a writer.

The Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds tour of the US and Canada starts this month, details here.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘Damn good’ postcard portraits of ‘Twin Peaks’ characters
09:08 am


David Lynch
Twin Peaks
Mark Frost

Donna Hayward
I really love these restrained yet expressive portraits of some of the memorable characters from David Lynch’s landmark 1990-1991 ABC television series Twin Peaks. The artist is named Paul Willoughby; not being able to procure actual postcards from the town of Twin Peaks, Willoughby cleverly used as his “canvases” vintage postcards depicting the gorgeous, foresty vistas of the Pacific Northwest instead.

The postcard images call to mind a memorable bit of typically gee-whiz dialogue from the show:

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper: Sheriff, what kind of fantastic trees have you got growing around here? Big, majestic.

Sheriff Harry S. Truman: Douglas firs.

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper: [Marveling] Douglas firs…

Four of these images—the ones for Josie, Audrey, Donna, and the high school portrait of Laura Palmer—were part of an exhibition at Menier Gallery in Southwark, London, dedicated to Twin Peaks at the end of 2012. I highly recommend clicking around in the exhibition’s website; there’s a lot of fun stuff there for Twin Peaks obsessives.
Josie Packard
Audrey Horne
Dale Cooper
FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper
Shelly Johnson
Gordon Cole
Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole
Laura Palmer
Laura Palmer
Laura Palmer
via Biblioklept

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Rik Mayall in ‘Don’t Fear Death,’ one of his final works
01:03 pm


Rik Mayall

You know how we’re all affected by certain celebrity deaths that shock and sadden, and knock the wind from you, making the world seem that little less exciting? Like the end of the summer holidays, or clearing up after that great party, when all the presents have been opened, the guests have all gone, the food and drink taken, and there’s only the clearing up and hangover to be faced. That’s kinda how I feel about Rik Mayall, who died today at the age of 56.

Some of you will say Elvis or Lennon or Cobain, or maybe Tupac or Winehouse or Hoffman, and of course I’ll agree, but they didn’t sink as deeply or sting as much as Mayall’s death did today. I thought him the funniest, most joyous and fearless comic I’d ever seen, and someone who was admirable because of that. He never stuck with the “a man walked into a bar” jokes,” or easy targets of politics that many of his contemporaries did, or even tried to win over the audience and pick on people for a cheap laugh, no. Rather, Mayall made himself the focus of the comedy, he was his own punchline, and as such was exuberant, joyful, yes often juvenile, and daft, but never, ever dull.

One of the last things Rik Mayall did for TV before his untimely death was to voice an animation for Channel 4 called Don’t Fear Death. Written and produced by Louis Hudson and Ian Ravenscroft, this three-minute animation explores the “benefits” of being dead, ironically suggesting that death “is your passport to complete and utter freedom. No pulse, no responsibilities. Carpe mortem – seize death.”

RIP Rik Mayall comedy genius 1958-2014.

Via Daily Telegraph, with thanks to Michael Gallagher

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Sly Stone, totally wasted (and totally amazing) on the Dick Cavett Show
11:35 am


Dick Cavett
Sly Stone

Even a lucid Sly Stone is a marked contrast with the as-patrician-as-a-midwesterner-gets raconteur/columnist Dick Cavett. So when Sly and the Family Stone appeared on a 1971 episode of Cavett’s talk show, and Sly did his post-performance interview blitzed out of his fucking skull, high comedy ensued (no pun). After a killer performance of “I Want to Take You Higher” (too easy, not gonna take it), Stone sat down with an unflappable Cavett for some of the most hilariously groggy repartee in television history.

At one point, Cavett asked a left-field seeming question—though in Stone’s state, any question probably could have seemed a non-sequitur—about music theory. Stone was in fact steeped in theory, and nipped the question in the bud (had to) by channeling his old music teacher David Froelich in an utterly jaw-dropping outburst. Sly’s benumbed appearance can be found on the Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons DVD, but you can watch Cavett and Stone hold their own against one another right here, in magnificent fuzzyvision. The first video is the musical performance, the second is the interview.


Legendarily unreliable drug sponge seeks albino backup band, no weirdos
Muhammad Ali and Sly Stone on the Mike Douglas Show 1974
Wear Something Gold: Sly Stone’s 1974 wedding at Madison Square Garden

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Art world phenomenon Bartsquiat Simpson

Jean-Michel Basquiat was the precocious graffiti-artist-turned-downtown-art-sensation in the 1980s, a protege of Andy Warhol’s who sadly perished in 1988 of a heroin overdose. His “primitivist” artworks inevitably led skeptics to question whether there was really anything there at all, but that reaction is certainly overdone. As we can see in the Basquiat’s Simpsonized crown logo, this mashup was just waiting to happen.
Vacancy has produced a T-shirt with the Bartsquiat image, it costs a mere $35. If that seems like a lot of money to you, you should be aware that this sexy lady is wearing it, so it’s probably worth it.
If nothing else, the mashup indicates a heretofore little-noticed affinity between the work of Matt Groening and Keith Haring.
And hey, where else are you going to see a bunch of yellow Homer Simpson penises?

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘I always hope that people will have some kind of orgasm’: Patti Smith on ‘The Tomorrow Show’

Perhaps due to the lateness of the hour that it aired, Tom Snyder’s classic Tomorrow Show, in its run on NBC from 1973 to 1982, was able to feature interviews with genuinely adventurous and sometimes even anti-commercial musicians. Perhaps Snyder’s most famous musician guest was John Lennon (and his immigration lawyer), in what turned out to be his last televised interview. His most notorious was arguably the pointlessly combative and dickish cop-out of Public Image Limited. But Snyder’s skill as an interviewer was such that he rarely had a bad interview, and his chat with Patti Smith was fantastic.

She was interviewed by Snyder in May of 1978, shortly after the release of the Patti Smith Group’s classic third LP Easter. Surprisingly, they don’t talk about the album at all—Smith was really on that night (some of her more dithering interviews from around that time remain notorious to this day), so Snyder wisely let her free-associate about creative transformation, the divine, and the things that ultimately turn a kid into an artist.

A couple chunks of the interview are missing from this clip. The first is nothing particularly mind-blowing, just a bit of intro, but without it, one does wonder what the hell is going on. I’ve transcribed the missing bits from Shout! Factory’s fantastic Tomorrow Show: Punk & New Wave DVD.

Snyder: Now here is one of the first and the most accomplished of the New Wave rock artists in this country, her name is Patti Smith. She has released three record albums so far, she’s published a book of poems and drawings, and is an accomplished concert performer. She’s in Los Angeles for a show tomorrow, and she’s really excited to be here at NBC tonight because she saw where the stars park their cars.

Smith: Johnny Carson! I didn’t say all the stars, just Johnny Carson.

The second missing bit, however, is much longer and more illuminating. This belongs at about 6:33, after the fade-to-commercial, before the big glitch:

Snyder: Patti Smith will be at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium tomorrow night. I went through your book of poetry before we did this tonight, and I was interested in your, uh, what do they call it, dedication—“This book is dedicated to the future.”

Smith: Oh, and it’s got a little picture of me and my sister on Easter when we were little girls?

Snyder: Yeah, two little kids. What do you want the future to be like?

Smith: I want the future to be like, I just want it to be an open space for children. I mean to me, the future is children. When I was younger, first I wanted to be a missionary, then I wanted to be a schoolteacher, I just couldn’t get through all the dogma and I couldn’t really integrate all the rules and regulations of those professions into like my lifestyle, and into the generation that I was part of. And the really great thing about doing the work that I’m doing now, I have all the ideals that I ever had, to like communicate to children, or to people in general, to everybody, and to communicate with my creator. I can do everything, all the perverse ends of it and also, you know, all the innocence, it’s all inherent in the form that I’m doing. But I just like, I think that we’re really so lucky, to be alive and to be on this planet, and after going all over the world, really, America’s a really great country. We’re really lucky to be here, but also, there’s a lot of things that we have to fight for. This country was built on freedom, freedom of speech, and it is a very rich country, Capitalist and all that kind of stuff, that is true I suppose, but what we have to work on is refocusing our energies.

Snyder: How about “Redefining our priorities?”

Smith: Yeah, that’s a good one. We have nature, we have life, we have breath, we have so many chances we can take…


Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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