Wednesday, September 09, 2020

New album

My latest album Plundered Lumber, has just been released. It is available via Bandcamp in digital form and in a very limited physical edition of 25 only with unique on-body artwork.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The Elephant Man (1980)

I never fail to be very moved by this wonderful film - the casting, performances, production design and cinematography are pitch-perfect. Everyone feels exactly right for their roles.
It was Lynch's first proper mainstream film with someone else's script, and his first after Eraserhead. Lynch speaks glowingly of Mel Brooks' support for the film and relates an incident where his heart sunk when he realised Brooks had gone to a private screening of Eraserhead. He thought he was finished, no hope of landing the job. However, when Brooks emerged from the screening, he hugged Lynch and said how daft he was and he was perfect for The Elephant Man (or words to that effect). 

Much of the Victorian England scenery has pre-echoes of late 20th century industrial decline that Eraserhead is infused with, with belching chimneys and clanking clocktowers. Lynch was very lucky to have filmed this in 1979, when much of the older building stock was undemolished in London. The Long Good Friday was filmed the same year. Both these films feature a very young Dexter Fletcher (around 13, looking about 9), in the latter film merely a blink-and-you'd-miss-it appearance. As well as the strong male leads, there's great female characters, played by Hannah Gordon, Anne Bancroft and Wendy Hiller, who plays the ward sister to such great effect. A woman who seems a bit brusque and dismissive at first in that classically Victorian manner, but is essentially very compassionate.

I had forgotten Freddie Jones, who plays Bytes, Merrick's cruel master, was in it. I had recently watched his son Toby Jones play the poet John Clare in Andrew K├Âtting's By Our Selves (where Jones snr makes a short appearance). And, speaking of appearances, it's well known that Bowie played Merrick in an off-Broadway production in 1980, and I couldn't help noticing that a scene early in the film, where the young nurse, played by Leslie Dunlop, drops Merrick's breakfast when she gasps at her first glimpse of him, made me think of Candy Clark's screaming fit in The Man Who Fell To Earth, when she sees Newton's true appearance.

I was always confused by his apparent suicide at the end, where he wants 'to sleep like normal people' - why would he do that when he was so happy (having returned from the standing ovation for him at the theatre). However, it seems, where the facts were concerned, he was discovered in his clothes on top of the bed, not in it, and at a diagonal across the bed, as though stalled in an attempt to raise himself, whereupon he died of asphyxia at just 28.

John Hurt relates a story about memorabilia he kept from the film, which included the cast of Merrick's cranium. It was left on top of a wardrobe in a small flat he had in Hampstead. During this time he'd bought a house elsewhere, and someone told him there had been a break-in at the flat, but nothing was taken. What became obvious was that as soon as the wardrobe was opened, the cranium (with hair attached) must've fallen out (possibly in the dark) and given the intruder a hell of a fright, whereupon he took flight. The back door was broken down.

Monday, September 07, 2020

I could have been Raskolnikov but mother nature ripped me off

A trio of post punk pearls are turning 40 this year, and each is connected in unexpected ways.

Joy Division's Closer was recorded between 18 – 30 March 1980. Was it 'closer' to something, or was it a closer ? Hooky on the recording process: “It was a good laugh most of the time.. the only sad thing about it was Ian's illness – but he hid that so well.” Their story's conclusion is well known, and Howard Devoto makes reference to Ian Curtis, as well as Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley in the song, Hello Mr. Curtis (with apologies) from Magazine's 2011 album No Thyself. In a moment of disarming honesty to AU magazine in 2011 he states:

“The idea of suicide has always been important to me. I once had an unfortunate love affair which went wrong and I was in a bad way. I had a moment of revelation where I realised 'Hey ! I could top myself' and then I felt better. But, ever since then, suicide has always been an important idea for me.' I've only ever once in my life made plans and steps to bring about that end. I never got as far as swallowing anything or bringing a blade close to myself but I was starting to make plans in a very serious way. I even owned a gun at one point. And the main reason I had a gun is I might need it for myself at some unspecified point in the future”

The closing track on Talking Heads' Remain In Light, The Overload was their attempt to emulate the sound of Joy Division. The song was made despite no band member having heard the music of Joy Division; rather, it was based on an idea of what that band might sound like based on descriptions in the music press.

Grumman Avengers, used by the US Navy, in which Tina Weymouth's father had served, inspired the initial cover art for Talking Heads' 1980 LP 'Remain In Light' (working title 'Melody Attack'), later used on the back of the LP sleeve after the album name change.

The Appiani family tomb, as seen in the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Italy. Sculpted by Demetrio Paernio in 1910. photo: Bernard Pierre Wolff.

Odilon Redon: A Mask Sounds The Funeral Knell (1882) Image used on the late 70s edition of Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground, an inspiration for A Song From Under The Floorboards, from Magazine's 1980 LP The Correct Use Of Soap

The walls close in and I need some noise


French poster for The Idiot, released 18th March 1977.

“Poor Jim, in a way, became a guinea pig for what I wanted to do with sound. I didn't have the material at the time, and I didn't feel like writing at all. I felt much more like laying back and getting behind someone else's work, so that album was opportune, creatively.” - David Bowie

A lot of Stooges fans hated Iggy’s first solo album. I guess it wasn’t rock ’n’ roll enough for them. Far too dark and introspective - which is exactly what I like about it, and why it prefigured post punk so presciently, and became a template for Ian Curtis. It’s well documented as the last record that he listened to before he died.

It really is a Bowie album in all but name as, though he is credited as producer, he wrote most of the music and Iggy wrote the lyrics. It was made before Low, though released after it. It is a fascinating bridge between Station To Station and Low. Engineer and Magma bass player Laurent Thibault said that "David didn't want people to think he'd been inspired by Iggy's album, when in fact it was all the same thing." 

What In The World (working title Isolation) from Low was originally intended for The Idiot - Iggy’s backing vocals can be heard on it. “You’re just a little girl with grey eyes” is consistent with themes in China Girl, Tiny Girls and Baby. Sister Midnight was written by Bowie, Iggy and Carlos Alomar, and performed live on the Station to Station tour in early 1976.

The overall tone of the album is so lugubrious and sepulchral, vampiric and menacing, it feels like it could only have been made at night (which it was), by a zombie crew cattle-prodded into life. I’m reminded of Colin McCabe’s reaction to Derek Jarman’s 1987 film The Last Of England, where “.. he found it extraordinary how a vision so bleak was at the same time so exhilarating”