Saturday, 30 November 2013

Off The Air

That concludes our American Month and, indeed, our activities for 2013. We'll be back next year. It's a bit early to say it, but what the hell, we could all be in prison tomorrow: Merry Christmas and thanks for your interest!

It's been a funny old year, hasn't it?

Friday, 29 November 2013

Friday Night Film: Gentlemen Broncos

'Gentlemen Broncos' is the third feature film from the ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ co-writer and director Jared Hess. It concerns Benjamin, a dirt poor lonely boy from a very small town in Utah. Benjamin dreams of being a sci fi / fantasy writer but, when his ideas are stolen by his literary idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier, he falls into despair.

A low-key mix of dry deadpan comedy and the plain silly, ‘Gentlemen Broncos’ was denied a general release because of poor test audience reactions, but has had something of a second life on DVD and satellite TV. I won’t make any claims for it as a flawless masterpiece, but it’s one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in recent years: a charming, ridiculous, cheap, nerdy pleasure.

In a brilliant touch, scenes from Benjamin’s book (‘Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years’) are presented twice, sometimes three times: as Benjamin sees them, as the fraudulent Dr. Chevalier has revised them, and through the no budget camera of the appalling Lonnie Donaho, a local ‘auteur’ who has purchased the rights to the story with a postdated cheque. Not only does this allow some fantasy counterpoint to a story that largely takes place in the mundane spaces of the rural American west, but it also lets the director parody sci fi films and low budget movies in general, including the awful melodrama that Benjamin is induced to appear in, playing a sensual stable hand.

Michael Angarona plays Benjamin with an air of desperate resignation, his hangdog face and dying puppy eyes permanently prepared for the next kick in the teeth. Sam Rockwell gives a broad but highly enjoyable performance as Benjamin’s fictional mono-orchid hero, Bronco, carrying off both wild beard and, in Chevalier’s version, white disco mullet and porn star moustache. Perhaps the best performance comes from ‘Flight Of The Conchords’ Jermaine Clement as the distinguished (but increasingly desperate) sci fi guru, Chevalier. The bad doctor, with his nasal voice, literary pretensions and Native American jewelry is a perfect comic creation, a pompous, ridiculous character, a King of the Dorks who will do anything to avoid losing his crown.

Here’s the trailer.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The United States of Lynch

David Lynch is best known for his magnificent hair, oh, and for his films, which are excellent if you like being scared, intrigued, sexually excited and freaked out at the same time which, to be honest, I do. His art is less well known, but is of equal interest, providing yet another insight into a unique American mind.

A Bug Dreams Of Heaven


Change The Fucking Channel
Nothing Is Making Sense,
For Instance Why Is that Boy
Bleeding From The Mouth

The Most Interesting Man In The World?

And, just because I am fixated on it, here's 'Rabbits' from 2002. Lynch described it as a sitcom with the snappy tagline of "in a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain... three rabbits live with a fearful mystery".


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

He Was The Cosmos


Chris Bell was a founding member of the criminally overlooked Big Star, who were posthumously recognized as one of the absolute greatest bands of the 1970's, and hugely influential for many groups who followed after. The music of Big Star was catchy, but often druggy, ethereal, and tinged with sadness and longing. An unmistakable sound of their own, which was rooted in their Anglophile interests, and outsider status.

Bell left the group in 1972, mired in serious drug problems and mental health chaos. Despite these obstacles he managed to record some incredible solo material before his tragic death in 1978. His masterpiece 'I Am The Cosmos' is one of the most haunting pieces of music I've ever heard. The aching melancholy in his voice is beautiful in it's sincerity, and equally chilling in it's desperation.

If I've listened to this song once, I've listened to it a thousand times.

It never gets tired.

Every night I tell myself, 

"I am the cosmos, 

I am the wind" 
But that don't get you back again 
Just when I was starting to feel okay 
You're on the phone 
I never wanna be alone 
Never wanna be alone 
I hate to have to take you home 
Wanted too much to say no, no, 
Yeah, yeah, yeah 
Yeah, yeah, yeah 
Never wanna be alone 
I hate to have to take you home 
Want you too much to say no, no 
Yeah, yeah, yeah 
Yeah, yeah, yeah 
My feeling's always have been
Something I couldn't hide 
I can't confide 
Don't know what's going on inside 
So every night I tell myself 
"I am the cosmos, 
I am the wind" 
But that don't get you back again 
I'd really like to see you again 
I really wanna see you again 
I'd really like to see you again 
I really wanna see you again 
I'd really like to see you again 
I really wanna see you again 
I never wanna see you again 
Really wanna see you again

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Great Scott

He's lived in the UK for so long he seems like one of our own, but the fact that Scott Walker is an American gave him a unique perspective as an observer of London life and, beyond that, an interesting take on the sleazy / sophisticated allure of what used to be called The Continent. I love this guy, he's my hero. Here's a song that typifies his early observational style, and his way of elevating the mundane to something approaching magnificence.

We now skip forward nearly thirty years to an interesting (Richard Cook aside) little film from 1995, the year of Scott's triumphant return with 'Tilt'. That's almost twenty years ago, but I still can't quite get my head around how he arrived at that record...then he went and made 'The Drift' and 'Bish Bosch', even more enigmatic works. But then, that's genius, I suppose - it's not for us to understand how it happens, it's enough that it does.

Finally, on this whistle stop tour of a sixty year career, here's the centrepiece of his latest album 'Bish Bosch', which came out last year. It's over ten minutes long, but stick with it, it's an amazing piece of , well, it's an amazing piece of everything - it goes beyond just music.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Beat Bruce

Bruce Conner (1933 – 2008) was a draft dodger artist who fetched up in San Francisco in 1957 and fell in with the beatnik and experimental art crowd. He founded the Rat Bastard Protective Association. It's name derived from slang that beat poet Michael McClure had picked up, from the Scavengers Protective Society (the SF garbage collectors) and from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB, like the Rat Bastard's RBP). A parody of art societies and movements, it's members were entitled to use the RBP seal of approval on their work.
Bruce in his studio midden, 1959
Bruce is probably best known as a film maker, being pals with Stan Brakhage and similar folk, but he learned his chops creating assemblage sculptures and collage in the late 1950s and early 60s. Here all kinds of detritus is combined into spooky compositions, sometimes morbidly erotic, sometimes anguished, or both.

Collage From the Dennis Hopper One Man Show, c.1961

Rat Back Pack, 1959. Conner carrying Sammy Davis Jr.?

Ratbastard, 1958. The original man-bag

Black Dahlia, 1959
Portrait of Allen Ginsberg, c.1960-61
It's a dark vision in which recognisable objects are removed from their everyday use and drift into a dream or nightmare world, to the order of violence or vision.
Couch, 1963

Child, 1959
One of his most arresting works, Child (1959), shows the mummified corpse of an infant frozen in torment. Sadly the sculpture no longer exists. It was so fragile that it literally disintegrated during MoMA's efforts to conserve the wax figure.

Untitled, 1954-62
When asked about this period of his work Conner said:

"I think one of the themes of the work is an assumption that the creature is good. That the society which we have is alienating to the animal. It expresses power and violence and death and that's its main structure. And the signs of that are in the symbols we see all around us in the art, in the clothes, in the roles that people play in society. That people have to deal with this crucifixion of the spirit all the time; and that how well they shine through that is the triumph of those individuals".

Bruce Conner (right) chanting with Ginsberg and Michael McClure at Ginsberg's pad, San Francisco 1965
Not related

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Everything's Gonna Be Real Fine

Idiots will tell you that The Ramones only had one song, they merely varied the lyrics and the tempo: these idiots are idiots. The Ramones may not have gone in for suspended fifths and cadenzas but they effortlessly blended bubblegum melodies, buzzsaw guitar and comic book lyrics to produce machine tooled punk pop for the ages and, yes, great songs.

My favourite Ramones song is ‘Swallow My Pride’. It’s one of my favourite songs by anybody, ever. Over a typically no-nonsense arrangement, Joey Ramone tells us in fifty words or so a tale of indiscretion, compromise and the promise of romantic reconciliation after two years of estrangement (in the here and now world of The Ramones two years is a millennia).

The lyrics are so succinct they sound like a haiku; the melody happy, sad, poppy, punky, brilliant. Incidentally, when I first heard this song, a combination of Joey’s Noo Yawk accent and poor radio reception led me to believe this song was called ‘Muskrat’, which led to much smartarsery and sneering in the record shop when I asked for it. Dicks.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Ron Geesin : Genuine Artist


People always say you should never meet your heroes. It’s pretty good advice but I made an exception recently and had the great pleasure of talking with Ron Geesin, composer, sound artist, poet and performer.

Like all great artists his immense knowledge and experience was evident in almost everything he said and his enthusiasms extend well beyond the field of music to discussions on topics as diverse as apple trees (I have one sorry specimen, Ron has a small orchard), architecture, counterculture film, cutlery and adjustable spanners.
Have banjo, will travel
Ron was a pioneer of British electronic music, a sort of one-man Radiophonic Workshop with particular skills in tape editing and manipulation. He is also a great live performer, graduating from playing trad jazz as a teenager from the back of an old Austin bus, via folk and working men’s clubs and the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream (Ron bottom of the bill, Pink Floyd at the top) to Parisian theatres and the Uffizi Gallery. The influence of comedy music and the neo-Dada antics of The Alberts created an anarchic absurdism with which to provoke audiences, as opposed to his contemporary Ivor Cutler’s more gentle approach.

Ron was speaking at a special event held as part of the exhibition Sam Smith : Boats, Beasts and Beauties. Ron had provided the distinctive soundtrack for the Arts Council film ‘Genuine England’ about the artist and toymaker Sam Smith, which was given a rare screening. Ron has provided many hours of incidental and library music over the years but few projects proved as rewarding as this. Sam and he formed a great collaborative friendship; they responded to each other’s independent sounds and visions and continued to meet and correspond until Sam’s death in 1983.

We present a recording of the presentation and Ron’s banjo improvisation finale, dedicated For Sam. It’s almost like being there, without having had to travel through the Scottish wind, rain and darkness.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Oh, Sandy!

Some of the many faces of Sandy Warner, who appeared on the covers of Exotica pioneer Martin Denny's first twelve albums.

In case you don't know, here's the sort of thing Denny recorded. 

Yes, it is AMAZING, you're quite right.