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Moving 1960s short interviews the ‘Bowery Bums’ of old New York
08.28.2014
01:34 pm

Topics:
Class War
History

Tags:
1960s
NYC
homelessness


 
Despite former Mayor Giuliani’s highly successful war on the homeless, the destitute faces of “Old New York” remain some of our most recognizable mascots. One of the misconceptions about present-day NYC is that the streets are now “scrubbed” of the homeless, but nothing could be further from the truth. The post-Giuliani policing of the poor was however, an unmitigated success when it came to dispersing indigent bodies—in other words, busting up homeless communities. Simply put, it’s not illegal to die in the street, it’s just illegal to fraternize with your fellow undesirables.

The video below, shot in 1960 and 1961, doesn’t dig deep—it doesn’t have to. Men are quick and open about their lives. The tragically predictable culprits of addiction, prison, disability and the lack of work brought them to the Bowery, and they’re rightfully resentful of their grim sanctuary. Still, it’s an odd thing to be wistful for a time when the homeless were at least able to commiserate together fraternally in New York City. Like the gentlemen say, “misery loves company.”
 

 
Via Bowery Boogie

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Lose your mind and play’ Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd ‘live’ on TOTP, 1967


 
I type this as someone who has (perhaps obsessively) gone out of his way—for decades now—acquiring Pink Floyd bootlegs. I couldn’t get enough of them, always trading up in quality if possible. There was always an endless supply of them, with “new” ones popping up constantly. It was a disease like stamp collecting. I even paid a hundred bucks for one that I just had to have…

Since YouTube launched in 2005, of course, there’s been so much additional Pink Floyd goodness making its way to the public—an avalanche really—which is the only way to explain how THIS ONE got past me in the Floydian deluge… I’d read a few years ago that the British Film Institute had located tapes of two of Pink Floyd’s three Top of the Pops appearances in the summer of 1967 and that the quality was a little ropey. I promptly forget about it, but that footage turned up on YouTube about a year ago, even if I just saw it myself this morning.

True the quality isn’t great—only one of the tapes was watchable apparently—but who’s going to complain about catching a rare glimpse of a still functional Syd Barrett fronting Pink Floyd on TOTP in 1967??? Before this video was located, practically the only documentation of the group’s trio of appearances on the program was the color shot used on the Syd Barrett bootleg “Unforgotten Hero” as seen above.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘The Balcony’: Peter Falk, Leonard Nimoy & Shelley Winters frolic in Jean Genet’s twisted whorehouse

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The Savage Eye was an early example of American cinema vérité that began as a film project worked on (over several years at weekends and days off) by three friends Ben Maddow (famed and award-winning screenwriter of Asphalt Jungle amongst many others), Sidney Meyers (radical film-maker and documentarian), and Joseph Strick (successful businessman and ambitious film-maker). Their movie mixed social documentary and drama that told the story of one woman’s (low) life in big, anonymous, brash, modern Los Angeles. It became a major hit at the Edinburgh Festival and won the trio a BAFTA—the equivalent of a British Oscar—in 1960. Encouraged by the film’s success, Strick sought out another project to work on.

He tried and failed to option James Joyce’s Ulysses, a project he had long cherished, though he would eventually film Ulysses with Milo O’Shea in 1967, and later produce and direct the big screen adaptation of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with Bosco Hogan and John Gielgud in 1977. Having failed on a first attempt with Ulysses, Strick approached Friedrich Dürrenmatt to option his play The Visit—in which a woman offers her home village money and success at the cost of killing her ex-boyfriend—but was also knocked back. He then approached Jean Genet and asked to option the film rights to his highly controversial play The Balcony. This time he was successful.
 
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Jean Genet.
 
The Balcony is a brilliant and often disturbing drama, hailed as either the play that re-invented modern theater or the first great piece of French Brechtian theater—take your pick. Set in a high-class whorehouse situated in some unnamed city during an apparent bloody revolution, the play works as a metaphor for the different classes and corrupt structures of society. Genet wrote the first version of The Balcony (and a first version of The Blacks) in the spring and summer of 1955. Over the next ten years, Genet constantly wrote and rewrote The Balcony and between 1955 and 1961 he published five different versions. (There are some—like the play’s editor Marc Babezat—who believe Genet destroyed the script through his incessant revisions.)

In his introduction to the first version of The Balcony, Genet explained the drama’s story:

This play has as its object the mythology of the whorehouse. A Police Chief is infuriated, chagrined, to notice that at the ‘Great Balcony’ there are many erotic rituals representing various heroes: the Abbe, the Hero, the Criminal, the Beggar—and others besides—but alas, never he Police Chief. He struggles so that his own character will finally, through an exquisite act of grace, haunt the erotic daydreams and that he will thereby become a hero in mythology of the whorehouse.

Though Genet claimed he had no interest in films (“Cinema does not interest me”), he agreed to Strick’s offer to produce a movie version of The Balcony. Edmund White in his biography of Genet described the original meeting between French playwright and American film-maker:

Strick first encountered Genet in Milan, where Genet had reserved rooms in two different hotels ‘in case he had to reject my idea—he’s that sensitive,’ said Strick. Genet had seen one of Strick’s earlier films The Savage Eye, the story of a sad, recently divorced woman and her view of the seedy side of California life. Genet instructed Frechtman to speak to Strick for him: ‘Tell him that a lot of the images in his film touched me, but that the plot construction, the under-pinning appeared to me very weak. He doesn’t prove to us that this woman has changed at the end of the film. Now, a film adapted from The Balcony needs a very solid structure. Who will provide?’

While Strick stayed in the luxurious Hotel Negresco, Genet preferred a ratty hotel he called the Horresco. He was clean and neat but always dressed in the same corduroy trousers, turtleneck sweater and black leather jacket. Genet wrote a long treatment, a detailed description of the action without dialogue. Two stumbling blocks were the character Roger’s self-castration, and the whole end of the play, which is not well integrated with the preceding scenes. In the final version the castration was indeed removed. Genet worked four hours a day. Strick wanted Genet to do a shooting script and promised to follow every shot, but Genet didn’t want to invest any more time in the project. He latter told Marianne de Pury that he found the collaboration very irritating. He was still working on The Screens. He did accept, however, the idea that The Balcony should take place in a film studio and not a whorehouse.

 
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Peter Falk as the Police Chief and Shelley Winters as Madame Irma in Strick’s ‘The Balcony’.
 
Ben Maddow was then employed to write the final script. The movie was then shot a very low budget, with the actors all working for minimum wage. Strick originally wanted Barbara Hepworth as Madame Irma, but she refused working for a minimum fee. Strick therefore approached the Hollywood star Shelley Winters to play the madame. Peter Falk, in only his second movie, agreed to play the Chief of Police, while future Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy played the role of Roger. Ruby Dee reprised her stage role as one of the prostitutes. Though considerably tamer than the Genet’s play, Strick still manages to maintain much of the play’s integrity. However, critics were mixed on the film’s release, with some papers, like The New York Times—quelle surprise—hating it. Watching it now, Strick made a bold and brave venture of a difficult and powerful drama.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, Warren Oates and John Boorman at the ‘Point Blank’ wrap party
08.28.2014
07:44 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
John Boorman
Lee Marvin

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You can read all the self-help and how-to-succeed books you want, but sometimes success comes down to how you get on with other people.

The English director John Boorman had only directed one (flop) film, the sub-Beatles Dave Clark Five flick Catch Us If You Can, when he met Lee Marvin to discuss working on a film together. Marvin was at the top of the tree having just won several awards (including an Oscar) for his performance in Cat Ballou. The actor was in England working on his latest feature The Dirty Dozen when he had a discussion with Boorman about the possibility of making a film together based on Richard Stark’s novel The Hunter. There was a script, but neither Marvin or Boorman liked it much, both preferring Stark’s hard-edged loner Parker from the book, or as he was renamed in the screenplay, Walker.

For whatever reasons, the novice film director and the experienced actor hit it off, and Marvin agreed to appear in Boorman’s film—there was only one thing, he just didn’t want that script. In an interview between Boorman and Steven Soderbergh, the director recalled how the actor called a meeting with the film company’s head of studio, the film’s producers and himself, where Marvin asked if he had script approval? They told him, he did. Then Marvin asked if he had approval of the main casting? Again he was told he did. Then Lee Marvin did something extraordinary:

He said, “I defer all those approvals to John.” And he walked out. So on my very first film in Hollywood, I had final cut and I made use of it.

This is how John Boorman was able to make Point Blank the way he wanted to make it. The film established him as a powerful and visionary director, while his movie Point Blank was hailed by critics as a masterpiece, which has grown in reputation over the years, and is now listed as one of those [Pick a number] Movies You Must See Before You Die.

Success comes not from any dime store self-help book but from who you are and what talent you have, and sometimes from the people who like you.

This selection of seldom seen photographs come from the wrap party given for Point Blank at the Zoo club in Los Angeles, 1967.
 
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Lee Marvin arrives at the Zoo club with drink and cigarette to hand.
 
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Lee Marvin, John Boorman and Michelle Triola—who would later (unsuccessfully) sue the actor for palimony.
 
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Steve McQueen with then wife Neile McQueen (short dark hair). Note Burt Reynolds cuttin’ a rug.
 
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Marvin and Boorman horse around with Keenan Wynn.
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Fantastic footage documenting the Tower Records shopping experience of 1971
08.28.2014
07:16 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Tower Records


The Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. circa 1988 (note the poster for the Coming to America soundtrack)
 
This utterly enthralling footage of the Tower Records on 8801 Sunset Boulevard was shot by Sacramento City College professor Darrell Forney in 1971. It’s available on archive.org. It’s ten solid minutes of pretty much random footage on a typical day, scored to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” and Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” Anyone who’s old enough to remember those days—or simply anyone who’s into record collecting—set aside ten minutes to take this wonderful footage in. Then set aside another ten minutes to watch it all over again.

Tower Records was based in Sacramento and had existed since 1960—when this footage was shot, the Sunset Blvd. location had been open for only a year. It would be a mainstay for Los Angeles music lovers for more than three decades, until it finally closed in 2006.
 

 
I love how they just stack the records in the middle of everything. New albums appeared to cost $3.55 for the most part—not all that cheap, that translates to about $20 today (a good number of those albums in reissued LP format would run about $20, no?). We can see staff members unpacking many, many boxes of George Harrison’s 1970 triple LP All Things Must Pass. Does anyone see an album that definitely dates this at 1971? I thought I saw Elton John’s 11-17-70 but it was actually his self-titled album. Fascinating to see 8-track cassettes being sold in large quantities and also, not ironically.

Hey, that clerk is smoking!! Surely he was risking a fine?? Oh, what am I talking about, this is 1971, nobody gave a hoot about stuff like that. (There’s even an ashtray on the checkout counter.) At least two handsome pooches are also depicted, I can’t imagine they were letting dogs in by the time 2005 rolled around.

There’s a lingering shot of someone thumbing through a new copy of the Schwann Stereo Record Guide. I’m going to assume that this was an essential bit of stereophile literature, but it’s before my time. I was a little surprised to see that the familiar red-on-yellow typeface was already in place this early.

I’ve been a CD/mp3 person for most of my life, but last autumn I finally gave in to the LP impulse—this is the most mouth-watering thing I’m likely to see all week. Luckily Amoeba Records has already done the bloggers of 2056 a big favor by thoroughly documenting the scene there, including live performances and inviting fun people to spend a hundred bucks in the store during their “What’s In My Bag?” web series.
 

 
Here’s a promo for Tower Records that John Lennon taped during an in-studio radio appearance on KHJ in 1974. The album he was promoting was Walls and Bridges. This cute montage uses a whole lot of Professor Forney’s footage. (You can actually see Paul McCartney’s first album, which is a little odd.)
 

 
via Wax Poetics & Vintage Los Angeles
 
Thank you Blue Arrow Records of Cleveland, Ohio!
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Wattstax’: The ‘Black Woodstock’ music festival


 
The Watts Riots are often referred to by lefties as “The Watts Rebellion.” While both are technically accurate descriptions, “rebellion” is considered the preferable word by sympathists, since “riot” has a negative connotation. For me, the word “riot” lacks any moralist stigma, since rioting has historically played a necessary role in the resistance of oppressed people. I also think “riots” paints a more identifiable picture.

In addition to less explicit economic discrimination, the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles was plagued with racist attacks from both white gangs and and a militarized police force (sound familiar?). The 1965 events that incited the riots are convoluted, but (briefly) a black man was arrested for driving under the influence, his brother (who was was a passenger), left to inform the man’s mother, who showed up to the arrest. There was a physical altercation, all three black citizens were arrested, and onlookers from the neighborhood began throwing things at the cops.

Eight days later, 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries and 3,952 arrests. 600 businesses were destroyed and over $40 million was done in damages over a 46-square mile-area.
 

 
In 1972, Stax Records put on a concert featuring their artists to commemorate the riots. Tickets for the Wattstax music festival (held in the massive L.A. Coliseum) were sold for $1 each to keep the event affordable for working class Los Angeles residents. Mel Stuart, who had just directed Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (a box-office bomb, despite its classic status), documented the concert in Wattstax, the electric results of which you see below. Wattstax has been shorthanded as “The Black Woodstock,” but it’s so much more.

The film is something greater than a record of fantastic concert footage, though the performances from artists like The Staples Singers, Isaac Hayes and The Bar-Kays are mind-blowing. It’s the interviews with Watts residents, who reflect on their lives and politics and what has and hasn’t changed since the riots, that really make the film. Richard Pryor serves as a kind of Greek chorus, and his interactions with the crowd are hilarious and full of humanity. You’ll notice that nearly the entire audience defiantly stays seated during Kim Weston’s rendition of the national anthem.

If you want a good clip to sample, there’s a fantastic bit starting around the 38:30 mark where Richard Pryor riffs on black identity (and pork). It then cuts to The Bar-Kays (looking like a heavenly choir from outer space), who do a blistering version of “Son of Shaft.”
 

 
Via Open Culture

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Miniature marvels: Welcome to the fabulous world of Subatomic Tourism

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Entourage.
 
Subatomic Tourism is the fantastic miniature world created by “bequiffed” Edinburgh-based visual art Mirren Audax. As he describes it on his site:

Subatomic Tourism is an ongoing project to big up the small with a hint of Irwin Allen and Richard Feynman, along with a touch of Marcel Duchamp and Ray Harryhausen; to bring by way of Joseph Cornell and Gerry Anderson a celebration of the wonderful world-sized diorama we find ourselves living in.

Audax photographs scenes created with toy figures placed in urban settings that resemble stills from classic TV series, science fiction films, pop culture and surreal portraiture. With references to Doctor Who, Star Trek, H. P. Lovecraft and American road movies, Audux’ fabulous images allow the viewer to invent their own narrative for each image.

See more Lilliputian worlds here, and you can follow the Museum of Subatomic Tourism on Facebook and Twitter.
 
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Migration Tracking.
 
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Lost In The Supermarket.
 
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Silver Foil Nemesis.
 
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The Saucer.
 
More miniature marvels after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Germaine Greer vs. Diane Arbus: ‘If she had been a man, I’d have kicked her in the balls’

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Though Diane Arbus was famed for her photographs of “deviant and marginal” people “whose normality seems ugly or surreal,” she did not want to be thought solely as a photographer of freaks. This in part may explain why Arbus accepted a commission to take a portrait photograph of Germaine Greer for the publication New Woman. Unless, of course, the magazine’s editors thought there was something freakish about the Antipodean academic, journalist and feminist?

On a hot summer’s day in 1971, Arbus arrived to photograph Greer at the Chelsea Hotel. Greer was on tour with her book The Female Eunuch and had most recently taken part in an infamous head-to-head with Norman Mailer at New York City’s Town Hall. Seeing the diminutive photographer was overly laden with equipment, Greer helped Arbus up to her hotel suite.

Greer may have been showing consideration to the photographer, but the session soon turned into a battle of wills as Arbus ordered the Greer around the room, telling her to lie on the bed, and then straddling her as she snapped away. Greer later related meeting with Arbus to the photographer’s biographer Patricia Bosworth:

It developed into a sort of duel between us, because I resisted being photographed like that—close up with all my pores and lines showing!! She kept asking me all sorts of personal questions, and I became aware that she would only shoot when my face was showing tension or concern or boredom or annoyance (and there was plenty of that, let me tell you), but because she was a woman I didn’t tell her to fuck off. If she had been a man, I’d have kicked her in the balls.

Unable to deliver a telling kick, Greer opted not to co-operate.

‘I decided “Damn it, you’re not going to do this to me, lady. I’m not going to be photographed like one of your grotesque freaks!”  So I stiffened my face like a mask.

Greer would later claim the duel with Arbus as a draw, but as Howard Sounes noted in his superlative cultural biography of the Seventies:

The editors at New Woman evidently thought Greer vs. Arbus had resulted in defeat for the photographer, for her pictures were never used in the magazine. In a letter to [her husband] Allan, Diane discussed her attitude to the shoot, perhaps revealing her approach to her subjects generally. She wrote that she had liked Germaine Greer personally, considering her to be ‘fun and terrific looking…’ Nevertheless she went out of her way to depict her in an unflattering light. As she said, ‘I managed to managed to make otherwise.’

The picture from the session, printed posthumously as ‘Feminist in her hotel room, NYC, 1971’, is in fact fascinating, not least because in close-up, Greer’s neatly plucked and re-applied eyebrows more than a passing resemblance to the transvestite in curlers Arbus photographed back in 1966.

Arbus was not best suited to working as a freelance photographer—the hours spent pitching ideas that often came to nothing, or struggling to earn agreed fees from indifferent publishing houses to maintain her independence, caused her deep depression. Taking fashionable portraits of celebrity figures was hardly the work for an artist photographer who believed:

A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.

 
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Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Soviet posters warn soldiers and civilians not to leak state secrets
08.27.2014
01:06 pm

Topics:
Art
History

Tags:
Soviet propaganda


“In a letter home, look, you do not accidentally become loose military secrets.” (1954) Because in Soviet Russia, a gossip-goblin lay in wait at ever window, hoping to disseminate classified information from soldier’s correspondence.
 
Calls for civic discretion during wartime have always been a rich source of propaganda. “Loose lips sink ships” is the classic American slogan, and the British “Keep mum,” feels appropriately prissy for our allies across the pond. I recently learned that the Swedes promoted the punny “en svensk tiger” during World War 2 (“tiger” meaning both “tiger” and “silent”), but no one quite does discipline like the Germans, who went with, “Schäm Dich, Schwätzer!” meaning “Shame on you, blabbermouth!”

My theory is that these axioms are intended more to foster xenophobia and suspicion than the protect actual state secrets. Most rank-and-file military don’t even have access to sensitive information. Even in the field, their communications are heavily monitored and most soldiers are kept on a need-to-know basis, so the likelihood of soldiers leaking even so much as a location is very low. As for civilians, well, I’ve never had access to anything “sensitive”—but perhaps my garrulous reputation precedes me? 
 

“Do not talk! Strictly keep the military and state secrets” (1958)
 

“Be watchful and vigilant!” (1951)
 
More Soviet posters after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill’: Watch the new BBC documentary
08.27.2014
12:10 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Kate Bush


 
Although it’s front page news everywhere in the United Kingdom today, there wasn’t much mention here of Kate Bush’s return to the concert stage last night in London after a 35 year absence. I suppose that makes sense, as she is one of England’s greatest living musicians, but I still thought it would get a little bit more play here in the States. I think we’ve got our own fair share of Kate Bush fanatics.

What’s worth remarking about, I thought, was how The Telegraph’s reviewer decided to allude, not subtlly at all, to the 56-year-old’s weight in the subtitle of their review (”Singer defies weight of expectation on her comeback live performance to thrill audience with her theatrical imagination and undiminished voice”) and then DO IT AGAIN in the opening sentence (”The weight of anticipation bearing down on Kate Bush’s 5ft 2inch frame ahead of her opening night must have been near unbearable.”) Coincidence?

What’s unbearable is this… shitty prose.

Who does the Telegraph’s Bernadette McNulty think she is to write about the great Kate Bush in this manner? Even if her review is, overall, a positive-ish one, I will admit to a sleepy, pissed off, lemon-faced reaction when I read that this morning. What sort of fucking idiot writes such a thing about a major artist, revered the world over, returning to the concert stage after decades and thinks that they’re being clever? And coming from a female journalist, yet? LAME. Whether Bush is dressed in a leotard or a kaftan, McNulty isn’t of sufficient stature to kiss the hem of either…

Thankfully, The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis was there and offered up something more intelligent than McNulty could muster:

Over the course of nearly three hours, Kate Bush’s first gig for 35 years variously features dancers in lifejackets attacking the stage with axes and chainsaws; a giant machine that hovers above the auditorium, belching out dry ice and shining spotlights on the audience; giant paper aeroplanes; a surprisingly lengthy rumination on sausages, vast billowing sheets manipulated to represent waves, Bush’s 16-year-old son Bertie - clad as a 19th-century artist – telling a wooden mannequin to “piss off” and the singer herself being borne through the audience by dancers clad in costumes based on fish skeletons.

The concert-goer who desires a stripped down rock and roll experience, devoid of theatrical folderol, is thus advised that Before the Dawn is probably not the show for them, but it is perhaps worth noting that even before Bush takes the stage with her dancers and props, a curious sense of unreality hangs over the crowd. It’s an atmosphere noticeably different than at any other concert, but then again, this is a gig unlike any other, and not merely because the very idea of Bush returning to live performance was pretty unimaginable 12 months ago.

He goes on to say that the likes of Bush’s “Before the Dawn” theatrical spectacle hasn’t been seen since Pink Floyd toured The Wall. The concert includes helicopters, skits and a video of Bush seen floating in a sensory deprivation tank.

In anticipation of Bush’s shows at the Hammersmith Apollo, the BBC recently aired The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill, a portrait of the enigmatic artist with comments from St. Vincent, Big Boi, John Lydon, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, David Gilmour, Tricky, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry, Viv Albertine and others. Of particular interest is Elton John’s anecdote about how when Kate Bush came to his civil partnership ceremony with David Furnish, even in a room full up with hundreds of famous people, they all wanted to meet her.

Don’t expect to see much footage of the 22 London shows surfacing on YouTube. Bush is asking all concert attendees to turn their phones off.

“I have a request for all of you who are coming to the shows,” she wrote on her site last week:

“We have purposefully chosen an intimate theatre setting rather than a large venue or stadium. It would mean a great deal to me if you would please refrain from taking photos or filming during the shows. I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iphones, ipads or cameras. I know it’s a lot to ask but it would allow us to all share in the experience together.”

Anyone dumb enough to pull out their iPhone is likely to be kicked to death by rabid Kate Bush fans. [Nope, I stand corrected, someone did and lived to tell, or at least sell it to Gawker.]
 

 
Thank you to DM’s editor-at-large Marc Campbell for sending me this one!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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