Posts Tagged ‘music’

Bingle was kind enough to cover up her nips with some sticking plaster. #freethenipple? Apparently not.

Bingle was thoughtful enough to cover up her nips with some sticking plaster. #freethenipple? Apparently not.

You might have thought, like us, Dear Reader, that July 14th is most famous as Bastille Day. But no. Apparently, it’s  National Nude Day!

Really? Who knew? But it’s true. For one thing, as you can see, serial Instagram poster Lara Bingle posted a topless photo of herself for all her enthralled followers in celebration of the day.

The website that lists all national days excitedly tells us that “National Nude Day is a way to keep cool on a hot, sticky summer day.” Which is fine, well and dandy, unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, a rather obvious fact which has clearly escaped the enthusiastic compilers of the website.

If you went nude in Melbourne right now you would rapidly turn blue and any male protagonists would look somewhat emasculated quick smart. It’s about 50 Fahrenheit here, and bloody windy.

Nevertheless they plunge on to tell us that “Nudist groups around the world celebrate this holiday and take it quite seriously! Nudist’s (sic) are not perverts (good to know – Ed) even though their desire to go “au natural” might be offensive to the conservative population! (“Which conservative population?” we are minded to ask, but never mind.) The website excitedly continues to advise us that “Nudists are individuals who believe the human body is most beautiful in their natural state. Whether or not you agree with them, nudist’s (sic, again) encourage people to strut their stuff.”

Do they? Lots of good looking nudists persuade us to do the opposite of strut our stuff, frankly, but maybe that’s just us.

 

Anyway, we have managed to artfully combine a story on National Nude Day and Bastille Day. Our work here is done.

Anyway, we have managed to artfully combine a story on National Nude Day and Bastille Day. Our work here is done.

 

We note that the immortal painting by Eugène Delacroix, of Liberty Leading the People at the storming of the Bastille was nothing like as coy as Ms Bingle.

Still, those crazy whacky Frenchies, eh?

The French revolution inspired a lot of great art. Austrian composer Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf wrote his Symphony in C Major to celebrate the storming of the Bastille, indeed, the First Movement is specifically dedicated to it. Should you feel the need to overthrow any royalist dictatorships near you today, here’s nine minutes of audio inspiration accompanied by some nice pictures. Enjoy.

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Dear ol’ Ditters was an interesting chap. As a curious aside, he finished writing his autobiography just three days before he died.

About 1785, Haydn, Dittersdorf, Mozart and Wanhal played string quartets together, Dittersdorf taking first violin, Haydn second violin, Mozart viola and Wanhal cello. Eminent Irish tenor Michael Kelly, for whom Mozart created the lyric tenor roles of Don Ottavio and Ferrando in his great da Ponte operas Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte, was of the opinion that although they played well their performance as a whole was not outstanding; but the image of four of the greatest composers of their time joining in common music-making remains an unforgettable vignette of the the second half of the eighteenth century.

 

 

 

 

The blogosphere has today gone mildly bonkers over Shakira’s “sexy” performance at the Final of the World Cup. It’s all over the internet.

Seems to us, people may have forgotten her most famous performance and video. Currently 165 million hits and counting!

 

Cracking song too.

We suspect her performance will be remembered a lot longer than the Final itself, which wasn’t a great advert for the game. No lack of huff and puff and back and forth, but most of it unsuccessful. Argentina were left to rue a hatful of good chances missed, with one beautiful moment from Goetze to win the game for Germany.

 

Thank you Brazil: now, onto Russia, which somehow we suspect will not be quite as much fun for all concerned.

Thank you Brazil: now, onto Russia, which somehow we suspect will not be quite as much fun for all concerned. Photo:AFP

 

Overall though, the World Cup has been a superb showcase for the way the standard of football has become equalised around the world, with standout efforts from USA*, Australia, Algeria (who must have watched the final thinking “We could have beaten them!) and Costa Rica among the less fancied nations – especially Costa Rica – and impressive efforts from less-well-known but more major teams such as Holland, Chile and Columbia, and disastrously poor performances from previous powerhouses like, notably, England, Italy and Spain. And, of course, for the monumental slaying of Brazil 7-1 by Germany in the semi-final, which broke a nation’s heart and became a talking point for the ages.

Suarez-Hannibal28Biggest worldwide news of the tournament (sadly) was undoubtedly Luis “Hannibal Lechter” Suarez being banned from all soccer for a couple of months for biting an opponent for the THIRD time in a competitive game.

Cynics will note that didn’t stop Barcelona paying E88 million for him two weeks later. As in most sport, bullshit talks, money walks.

The other big news was the number of goals.

There were 136 of them in the 48 group games – an average of 2.83 per fixture. This was a record for a World Cup, with six more than 2002. After that the goals slightly dried up (Brazil v Germany aside) but we still saw a joint record 171 for a tournament – level with 1998.

There has been quality as well as quantity. James Rodriguez’s left-foot thunderbolt, Robin van Persie’s acrobatic header, Tim Cahill’s strike that thumped the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the line – all creating memories that will last a lifetime. And Miroslav Klose came into the tournament needing two goals to become the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer. He got them. The 36-year-old Lazio player scored with his first touch, from a yard out, against Ghana and become the joint top-scorer in World Cup history, alongside Ronaldo. He then scored his landmark 16th in the 7-1 rout of Ronaldo’s former side Brazil.

Horror moment was Brazilian wunderkind Neymar nearly breaking his spine following a knee in the back. Whilst the supremely talented young man was seriously injured, fracturing a vertebrae, we can all thank the good Lord it wasn’t more serious.

Teen World Cup fan Axelle Despiegelaere scores L'Oreal modelling deal after photo goes viral. Ten million women shout "Bitch!"

Teen World Cup fan Axelle Despiegelaere scores L’Oreal modelling deal after photo goes viral. Ten million women worldwide simultaneously shout “Bitch!

So what was your best moment of the World Cup?

For us it was the “vanishing spray” referees could use to mark the “ten yards” that defenders need to retreat from the ball at a free kick. Such an incredibly simple idea which should instantly be adopted in all leagues. FIFA, are you listening? Well done; now make it happen without delay!

So, your best moment? Do share. And no, we don’t mean the girls in the crowd, one of whom has now scored a modelling contract with L’Oreal.

We simply can’t believe, in 40 years of watching football, that no-one ever picked us out and offered us a deal. For a diet plan, if nothing else.

Jenny Craig, where are you when we need you?

And so it is back to domestic football, and in just a few short weeks all eyes will turn to the English Premier League for one. Which means I need to catch up on my sleep before the joy (or otherwise) of following the fortunes of Southampton FC at 2 am in the morning – new manager, new players, new goals. Who do YOU think will shine in the EPL this year, and where will Saints end up? Do let us know!

*Was this the World Cup that saw football break through its final frontier to become genuinely popular in the USA? Time will tell.

A friendly time-zone, a successful team and a travelling support that was bigger than any other, all came together to create a unique blend that led to record TV audiences and crowds of tens of thousands watching on big screens Stateside. Even Barack Obama watched from Air Force One and the White House. 

harris paintingA brisk debate is taking place in Australia as to what is to be done, if anything, with artworks associated with the convicted child molester and serial assaulter Rolf Harris, who as we write is facing a custodial sentencing hearing tonight. (Later: Harris was jailed for five years, to serve approximately three with good behaviour. Another 12 women are reputedly reporting alleged offences against him. The British Government’s legal officers are already considering a complaint that the sentence was inadequate.

In one town, Warrnambool, a rather attractive landscape mural painted by Harris on a loading dock has been covered up at the command of the town mayor while Councillors take the public pulse and work out whether it should be kept, covered up, or destroyed. A similar debate is occurring in the Queensland town of Bundaberg.

Meanwhile, The City of Perth says it is likely to tear up a footpath plaque in its central business district dedicated to Rolf Harris. “The boy from Bassendean” is among more than 150 notable West Australians celebrated with a plaque inlaid in the footpath of Perth’s St Georges Terrace.

Rolf Harris heads back to court today to face an almost certain custodial sentence.

Rolf Harris heads back to court today to face an almost certain custodial sentence.

What to do with the legacy of people that fall foul of the law is a vexed issue.

The calls for Rolf Harris to be expunged from art history is founded in the belief, which must be respected, that reminding victims of sexual abuse, whether children or adults, of his existence and role in society before his fall from grace, would be distressing and traumatic. This is a point of view that must be respected, coming as it does from people who are specifically experienced in the area, such as psychologists and victims of sexual assault organisations.

But at what point do we confront two awkward facts?

First, the elephant in the room is that the treatment of wrongdoers in the arts (and their output) varies enormously and for no apparent reason, and secondly the idea that the art from such people assumes a “life of its own” once it has left their mind, pen or brush, and becomes something which despite their crimes can still enrich or enliven society.

Let us tackle the first point first.

What about, for example, the case of politician and author Jeffrey Archer, whose books still sell in the millions worldwide? Should all his books be withdrawn from sale, or pulped, because he was clearly an adulterer, a perjurer who went to jail for his crime, and according to the internet allegedly involved in various other dubious matters?

Of course, it can be argued that Jeffrey Archer’s run-ins with the law were less contemptible than that of Rolf Harris, and so they may have been. Nevertheless, they seem to have put hardly a crimp in the veneer of his literary career.

And then what about the case of movie director Roman Polanski?

On March 10, 1977, Polanski, then aged 43, became embroiled in a scandal involving 13-year-old Samantha Gailey (now Samantha Geimer). A grand jury charged Polanski with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, which ultimately led to Polanski’s guilty plea to the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor as part of a plea deal agreed to by Polanski, the prosecutor, the judge, and the Gailey family.

According to Geimer’s testimony to the grand jury, Polanski had asked Geimer’s mother (a television actress and model) if he could photograph the girl as part of his work for the French edition of Vogue, which Polanski had been invited to guest-edit. Her mother allowed a private photo shoot.

Samantha Geimer as a teenager.

Samantha Geimer as a teenager.

Geimer testified that she felt uncomfortable during the first session, in which she posed topless at Polanski’s request, and initially did not wish to take part in a second, but nevertheless agreed to another shoot. This took place on 10 March 1977, at the home of actor Jack Nicholson in the Mulholland area of Los Angeles. At the time the crime was committed, Nicholson was on a ski-ing trip in Colorado, and his live-in girlfriend Anjelica Huston who was there, left, but later returned while Polanski and Geimer were there.

Geimer was quoted in a later article as saying that Huston became suspicious of what was going on behind the closed bedroom door and began banging on it, but left when Polanski insisted they were finishing up the photo shoot. “We did photos with me drinking champagne,” Geimer says. “Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realised he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn’t quite know how to get myself out of there.”

In a 2003 interview, she recalled that she began to feel uncomfortable after he asked her to lie down on a bed, and described how she attempted to resist. “I said, ‘No, no. I don’t want to go in there. No, I don’t want to do this. No!’, and then I didn’t know what else to do,” she stated, adding: “We were alone and I didn’t know what else would happen if I made a scene. So I was just scared, and after giving some resistance, I figured well, I guess I’ll get to come home after this”.

Geimer testified that Polanski provided champagne that they shared as well as part of a quaalude, and despite her protests, he performed oral, vaginal, and anal sex acts upon her, each time after being told ‘no’ and being asked to stop. Although Geimer has insisted that the sex was non-consensual, Polanski has disputed this. Nevertheless, under California law, a person under 18 cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse with anyone who is not their spouse, and Polanski has since settled a civil case with Geimer in her favour and even written to her apologising for the effect he had on her life.

So let’s just get this clear.

Roman Polanski had anal sex with an entirely innocent and allegedly non-compliant 13 year old.

Butromanpolanski have you seen and enjoyed any of his movies since? Tess? Frantic? Bitter Moon? The Ninth Gate? The Pianist? (For which he was awarded an Oscar which he could not receive because he would have been arrested.) The Ghost Writer? Carnage? Venus in Fur?

Polanski today is lauded throughout the world as a leading artist, and people regularly troop to the microphone to argue that he should be forgiven and his crime expunged.

Others will fulminate on the evil or otherwise of the people involved in these trials, but that is not the purpose of this article. It is not our place to condemn. And we are certainly not about to deny the role of forgiveness or the concept that people do bad things and then improve themselves. And it should also be said that the judge in Polanski’s original trial may well have unsatisfactorily reneged on a deal not to give him further jail time, and that Polanski therefore considered flight the only option rather than staying and facing the music. It may also be that being forced to live in Europe rather than America has caused him some hardship: inconvenience, at least.

Yet for all that he was a convicted sexual offender, at exactly the same time as many of those now being exposed in the United Kingdom and elsewhere were abusing children, and the subsequent treatment of Polanski’s art and the man himself has been markedly different to that meted out to Rolf Harris, TV personality Stuart Hall, and a number of others.

We stress that we make no judgement either way on any of these cases … we merely note the apparent double standard. Or, if you prefer, the lack of a standard.

The second issue is even more complex. To what extent does a work of art acquire a life of its own after it has left its creator? Should it not be allowed to exist, unencumbered by the travails of its creator, and judged entirely on its merits?

Those shoes look very uncomfortable.

Those shoes look very uncomfortable.

For example, Joe Shuster co-created Superman with Jerry Siegel, but then years later the world discovered that he was also the artist behind a range of extremely offensive Bondage/BDSM comics sold “under the counter” in America.

These comics were so nasty they were banned by the Supreme Court. Their publisher, a mobster turned porn peddler, was sentenced to prison because of them.

The only reason Shuster wasn’t arrested too is that no one knew who drew these books until recently, when they were accidentally discovered in a used bookstore by a comics historian.

But would anyone seriously argue that kids shouldn’t be allowed to watch Superman, or that the world would have been a better place if we’d never heard of the Man of Steel?

Moving on: Poet Lord Byron had at least two children out of wedlock, and one of them incestuously with his half-sister Augusta. He was also well-known as an enthusiastic adulterer.

Lord Byron - mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But should we ban his poetry?

Lord Byron – mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But should we ban his poetry?

Does that mean no jilted lover today should ever read his most exquisitely powerful words in When we two parted :? That would surely be a shame.

In secret we met
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

That worried look that says, "They know. They all know. I know they do."

That worried look that says, “They know. They all know. I know they do.”

Famous authors F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy, Victor Hugo, Goethe, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky all engaged in obsessive foot fetishes. Hardly illegal, but definitely peculiar.

For instance, when he wasn’t busy writing Faust, Goethe managed to find a woman named Christiane von Vulpis who shared his interest and would send him pairs of her “danced-out shoes,” which is like mailing a guy your dirty underwear, only much more unsettling on a deeper level.

Von Vulpis also nicknamed Goethe’s penis “Herr Schonfuss,” or “Mr. Nicefoot,” which we assume indicates that he either put toenail polish on his private parts and/or he habitually kept them bunched up in her wingtip loafers.

No, not illegal. But definitely strange. But should it affect our view of his lyric and epic poetry, his prose, his literary criticism, his learned works on botany, anatomy, and colour?

The list of artistic behavioural peculiarities rolls on, some mere peccadilloes, some extremely disturbing.

As the BBC reported, a victim of a paedophile teacher asked for his music textbooks for children to be banned. The BBC used the debate to ask, does the work, or the art, of someone who has committed such a crime have to be condemned as well?

Brian Davey

Brian Davey

To some within the music fraternity, there were two Brian Daveys. One a devious paedophile jailed for sexually abusing girls as young as four. The other was a respected music teacher who wrote books on the recorder that many tutors regard as among the best textbooks of their kind for children.

To his step-daughter Antoinette Lyons, now 33, the two are inseparable. She waived the anonymity accorded to victims of sexual abuse to call for his books to be withdrawn: “In my opinion they were written with one aim – to get to children.” This echoes an age-old conundrum from the world of art. Can you value work produced by someone whose private life and acts you find appalling? Do the proclivities of those responsible for artistic or intellectual works have to be taken into account in their appreciation?

It seems a shame that children should be denied access to excellent teaching materials because their author was a dangerous pervert.

As the BBC explained, similar stories keep popping up: for example, Fiona MacCarthy wrote a biography of the sculptor and typographer Eric Gill in 1989 that dropped a small bomb on the art world.

Gill's work remains popular despite his bizarre and illegal sexual behaviour.

Gill’s work remains popular despite his bizarre and illegal sexual behaviour.

Gill was one of the most respected artists of the 20th Century. His statue Prospero and Ariel adorns the BBC’s Broadcasting House and the Creation of Adam is in the lobby of the Palais des Nations, now the European HQ of the United Nations in Geneva.

But MacCarthy’s book revealed that he regularly had sex with two of his daughters, his sisters and even the family dog. These encounters he recorded in his diary.

Once the allegations were known, for some of Gill’s fans, even looking at his work became impossible. Most problematically, he was a Catholic convert who created some of the most popular devotional art of his era, such as the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral, where worshippers pray at each panel depicting the suffering of Jesus.

But the Catholic Church would not budge an inch. The former Westminster Cathedral administrator, Bishop George Stack, retains an unequivocal view.

In 1998, spurred on by a cardinal’s praise for Gill, Margaret Kennedy, who campaigns for Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, called for the works to be removed.

“Survivors couldn’t pray at the Stations of the Cross. They were done by a paedophile. The very hands that carved the stations were the hands that abused. He abused his maids, his prostitutes, animals, he was having sex with everything that moved – a very deranged man sexually.”

But Stack commented: “There was no consideration given to taking these down. A work of art stands in its own right. Once it has been created it takes on a life of its own.”

Does it though? It might be easier to make this argument for the Stations of the Cross than for nude sketches of Gill’s teenage daughter. But should we therefore stop using the clean, neat typeface Gill Sans, created by Gill? That would make life exceptionally tricky for millions of people worldwide who rely on it as the core of their corporate style guide.

gesualdoPopular Italian medieval composer Carlo Gesualdo
brutally murdered his unfaithful wife, her lover, his child, yet weGesualdo Cera still listen to his music enraptured. He is remembered for writing intensely expressive madrigals and sacred music that use a chromatic language not heard again until the late 19th century.

No one remembers him for slaughtering the lovers in a frenzied attack, swinging his infant son around until he died, and so forth. Perhaps the passage of time confers some form of forgetfulness, but nevertheless. One has to wonder.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink College of Ethics we do not propose that we know the answer to this conundrum.

If we had to express a view, it would probably be that we want the work preserved, just as we wish the names of such criminals expunged from consciousness. (Unless, perhaps, some extraordinary and meaningful act of contrition has been accepted by their victims.) Both cannot be achieved, of course.

We do have one small idea. Maybe a partial answer to Warrnambool’s problem is simply to grab a brush and paint over Harris’s signature. Over time, the genesis of the work will be forgotten, as will it’s thoroughly obnoxious and destructive author, and we will all be left with what it is now.

A nice painting.

Lou Reed

 

Meanwhile, celebrate Lou Reed’s astonishing eclectic genius with this amazing version of Perfect Day – my all time favourite Lou Reed song amongst a bunch of brilliant works – put together with an astounding collection of musical talent by the BBC for a promotional item. This video has been by 1.7 million people so far. I bet there’ll be a few more hits now. Wonderful. Sheerly, unforgettably wonderful.

And as a bonus, 1981’s O Superman by Laurie Anderson, Lou’s widow, as originally shown at MOMA in New York. One can hardly imagine what a dinner party with these two talents together would have been like. Our sympathies for Laurie and a wish that time heals her sadness.

 

Mr Nice Guy. It's hard to find anyone, anywhere, with a bad word to say about Billy Joel. (Trust me, I looked.) And this story is just another example of why.

Mr Nice Guy. It’s hard to find anyone, anywhere, with a bad word to say about Billy Joel. (Trust me, I looked.) And this story is just another example of why.

I always thought – suspected – Billy Joel was a great bloke.

I’ve no idea if he really is, but he comes over that way, and I saw him once at Kooyong in Melbourne and the show just rocked along with great good humour, and awesome music, of course.

His marriage to Christie Brinkley – for whom he wrote Uptown Girl, and made the memorable video with her – was very publicly on the skids, and that she had not accompanied him to Australia was the cause of some speculation.

Someone called out from the audience “Where’s your wife?” He paused, looked down momentarily, then looked up and smiled. Leaning into the microphone he murmured:

“I know where my wife is, man. Which is more than we can say for you.”

Needless to say the audience erupted into applause. Very classy put down.

Another reason I like him is he  does those “Masterclass” things in schools and colleges, which is an incredibly generous thing for a huge star to do. At one, recently, his natural good nature shone out.

When lifelong Billy Joel fan Michael Pollack stood up to ask his childhood idol a question during the Piano Man’s recent Q&A at Vanderbilt University, he had no idea the answer would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Pollack, a piano player himself, asked Joel if he could accompany him in a performance of “New York State of Mind” — Pollack’s favorite song.

“He thought for a little – he took a second – and then he just said ‘Okay,'” Pollack would later tell the Vanderbilt Hustler.

That was good enough for Pollack, who took off toward the stage to prepare for whatever came next. After just a 15 second exchange with Joel, Pollack began to play. And the results are a rather wonderful rendition of what has always been a seminal Joel classic: I recommend you watch it.

Pollack recounted — or tried to recount — the next few minutes:

From there, it was just … foggy. It’s hard to remember. I just started playing. I had practiced it a little bit thinking maybe I’d get the chance to go up … I kind of lost myself playing. Then afterward he said to me … he said that I was great, where are you from … and I said, “I’m a Long Islander just like you.” He was like, “Cool.” Then I walked off, and that was it. It was probably the greatest moment of my life, up to date.

Joel’s advice to attendees to remember Pollack’s name won’t likely be much of a task: the young musician recently signed with the performing rights organization BMI and has already started working on some songs of his own. By the looks of him, there’s another Piano Man in the wings. Wonder if he needs any lyrics?

Alexa Ray, Joel and Brinkley's daughter, is "all growed up now", of course. At the time of writing, she's 26 and developing her own career as a painist and songwriter. "Lullaby" is her favourite song of her father's.

Alexa Ray, Joel and Brinkley’s daughter, is “all growed up now”, of course. At the time of writing, she’s 26 and developing her own career as a painist and songwriter. “Lullaby” is her favourite song of her father’s.

If I am writing about Joel, I may as well chuck in his immortal song Lullaby, also titled “Goodnight, My Angel”, seen performed here with an explanation of its genesis to another fascinated student audience.

As the video explains, it is his answer to a question from his daughter, “Daddy, what happens when we die?”

It is, without doubt, one of the most moving – and effortlessly simple – meditations on family, dying, death, and memory that one can possible imagine.

As the father of a daughter myself it invariably moves me to tears – you have been warned. Halfway through it appears to affect Joel similarly: he breaks down, and has to continue in a little while.

It’s been covered so many times now that people forget it’s Joel that wrote it.

It may be his most lasting gift to us all: that, and his good nature.

“So many things I still want to say.” Amen.

The video that was released with the song is here. And very lovely and beautifully produced and thought provoking it is. But I prefer the unvarnished live version. Then again, I’m just an old softie. What can I say?

YokoOno

As one gets old, something rather horrid and unsettling happens.

Everyone else gets older around you.

And the icons of our youth gradually turn into withered and less competent versions of their former inspirational selves. Clint Eastwood stops being a sexy uber-male with a humorous glint in his eye and turns into a rambling fool on a political stage. You go and see Simon and Garfunkel on stage one last time, and dear old Art can’t hit the high notes in Bridge over Troubled Water any more. People start petitions for Paul McCartney to stop singing at major events. And sometimes the luminaries of our youth startlingly drop off the twig altogether – like beloved soccer players Emlyn Hughes, Bobby Moore, Peter Osgood and Alan Ball.

Existentialist horror.

Existentialist horror. If you don’t know what I am on about, half yer luck.

It all serves terribly effectively to remind us of the transitory nature of life, and, inevitably, our own inexorable march across the years.

When there is less life ahead of us than behind us it can sometimes be more than a little difficult to deal with.

I have always considered the mid-life crisis so beloved of comedy writers to be symptomatic of a genuine existentialist crisis explored by Satre and others.

Age is an unforgiving, unrelenting mistress, no matter how one seeks to address its vicissitudes. Inevitably the thoughts that have pre-occupied mankind for millenia press in on you in a personal and intense manner. Why am I here? What is (or was) it all for? What happens when I’m not here any more? Will it matter? With every sombre retrospective of “those friends we have lost in the last year” at the BAFTAs or Oscars the effect simply multiplies.

In some senses, contemplating the brevity of life can be a spur to rise and “get on with it”. To make sure we perform more productively for whatever time we have left, and also to “smell the roses” more intently as we pass by them, hugging our children more often, and more pro-actively and intently letting good friends and spouses know that we appreciate their support and love down the years.

But sometimes, just the sheer shock of age catching up with some luminary can cast us headlong into a blue funk. Which is why I was firstly appalled to read that Yoko has just tripped over the big eight oh, but then, on reflection, allowed myself to be encouraged by her remarkable resilience, iconoclasm, talent, stoicism, energy, and obvious determination to live her life meaningfully right up to whenever the end is. As is so well revealed in this excellent article in The Nation.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/172936/oh-yoko-ms-ono-80#

yoko-ono-john-lennonI was one of millions who were genuinely distraught when we were robbed of the positive influence of John Lennon on the world. I can still feel the pang of the news, deep in my soul, and every time one of his immortal songs comes on the wireless. I am going to use the occasion of his wife’s 80th birthday to re-focus myself to whatever is left of the rest of my own life. That sounds terribly pompous and even asinine, and I don’t mean it in a “my life changed today” lightbulb moment type thing. I simply mean that, sitting around thinking this morning, contemplating Yoko at 80, I realised that whether my life has great meaning, or none – or whether it’s going on for another 5 minutes or another thirty years – these are ultimately, and truthfully, trivial matters.

When I join the lists of “Friends we have lost this year” I will be, I think, perfectly content if people confer over a cup of tea and a curled up egg and lettuce sandwich and cheerfully agree “Well, he was himself, that’s for sure.”

Because perhaps, in the final wash up, that’s what we really need to aim for.

To be content that “we were ourselves”. Because surely, that is what all other meaning will flow from. That is all it can flow from, right? If we are someone else’s vision of ourself, then really, what was it all for? What point can there be in submissively playing out a role imposed by other’s expectations, or hiding ourselves away, until it’s too late to risk being who we really are?

Well, in 55 years of reading, working, writing, loving, losing, not to mention a degree in Literature and a Theology degree to boot, and much pondering, that’s where I’ve got to, anyhow. I’m sure someone will point out that some crusty philosopher said it better three hundred years ago and I could have saved myself the introspection, but then I never really claimed to be edumacated.

Anyhow: what do you think?

So cheers, Yoko. Thanks for being yourself. Thanks for reminding us. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

Happy Birthday.

Now 66 years old and still making the world sit up and take notice. inspiring stuff.

Now 66 years old and still making the world sit up and take notice. Inspiring stuff.

I have long been an admirer of David Bowie – singer, composer, artist, art expert, and actor.

Ziggy Stardust* and Aladdin Sane were the soundtrack for my late teens, that irreplaceable, confusing and alarming period when all the world seems to open up to a body and life has infinite possibilities. Bowie’s music – and even more so, his deliberately obscurantist lyrics – walked with me as I made the unsteady and faltering march into manhood.

Here was a man who had the courage to be experimental with language, who – if he could be believed – wrote lines and lines of lyrics and then cut the pages into pieces and lined the lines up at random to see what would happen. If they “spoke” to him in their new jumbled format, that was how they stayed. I never really thought that was what he did – it was all part of his avant-garde myth-making – but I was just dead impressed that anyone would have the courage to say that’s what he did.

Now, after a career spanning more than forty years in the arts, but after a musical hiatus of more than a decade, Bowie has unexpectedly released a new song, ahead of a new album out in March. It is already an internet sensation, and deservedly so. After what his biographer called “a career marked by continual reinvention, musical innovation and striking visual presentation” the dear old lad has done it again. Wrong-footed us all.

The song, ” Where are we now?” is achingly beautiful, mesmerically entrancing, and at one and the same time both awfully sad and strangely uplifting.

It celebrates, ultimately, love. Well, I think it does.

The love of people and places that lives on when times have changed. The type of complete, overwhelming and ultimately unselfish love that draws one human to another not for a brief moment, but for decades. That draws them to the memory of a person, even when they have moved away from our life, or died. Love that transcends, ultimately, life itself. Love that has a purity that is its own justification, and where purpose has no purpose. Love that simply lights up the Universe.

The song topped the UK iTunes chart within hours of being released and also made it to No 1 in sixteen others around the world, remarkable for a piece of music no one even knew was coming.

This is a song that could only be written after one has lived a life, which Bowie certainly has – he has endured expensive legal battles with various collaborators and managers, his art has frequently been misunderstood or derided, he has battled depression and an inability to separate his real life character from his onstage personas, endured severe cocaine addiction, and a heart attack – in short, he is at a stage, now, when one begins to contemplate one’s own mortality and the meandering route one has taken through life’s vicissitudes, sometimes taking the right path, and sometimes the wrong one, and when one has achieved the wisdom, hopefully, that comes with contemplation and the counsel of the years.

Its lyrics are deceptively approachable, at the same time hopelessly impenetrable, and at the end, charmingly simple. There is nothing synthetic in this song, despite the superb production values that have always marked David Bowie’s work, and the fascinating art-house video which accompanies it. (And kudos to the Director, too.)

I hesitate to say that only Bowie could write such a song, because that would be a burbling nonsense. What is certain is that he has certainly written more of them than most people.

“There’s a magical realism to it,” said Bowie’s friend Tony Oursler who directed the video, which also stars his wife, the abstract impressionist artist Jacqueline Humphries.

“People and friendships have gone sideways, planned projects have not gone anywhere and David wanted to reflect on that. It’s a very, very personal journey he is singing about and the song harkens back to that special time. He is a ‘man caught in time’ as he sings in the video, that’s a life-affirming statement.”

James Lingwood, co-director of influential London arts patron Artangel, which has commissioned work by Oursler, said he was surprised as anyone at the sudden comeback.

“Tony and David have collaborated for years and as soon as I saw the video, you can tell it is very much Tony’s work. It’s a fascinating video – both of them seem haunted by their histories, Bowie by using his Berlin background and Tony returning to his signature method. It’s poignant and plaintive the way Bowie undercuts his mythology while mythologizing himself at the same time. It’s wonderful.”

Here is another song in which Bowie achieved the same myth-making and emotional directness. Rock and Roll Suicide was an anthem that clearly meant a lot to Bowie. It finished the Ziggy Stardust album, and as seen here, it was the last song that he ever performed in his career-making Ziggy alter-ego with the Spiders from Mars band. His caterwauling appeal, intended to be understood both within the song and by his audience, that “You’re not alone!” is a unique moment in rock history, and could only have been written and performed by someone who was already well aware of his own mental fragility.

I am including two versions, the live one above and the recorded one below, simply because the one above speaks to how Bowie mesmerised a generation, related to them in a way few artists have before or since, and the second, below, simply because it’s a better production. It’s interesting to compare them.

What’s interesting about the live version are the atmospherics. The howl of anguish from the crowd when he announces that this was it, finally it, this last night at the iconic Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, for Ziggy and the Spiders.

And at the end, his completely unaffected “We love you.” to the crowd as he walked away, into an uncertain future … morphing into what would become Aladdin Sane, and then his move away from Glam Rock altogether into “plastic soul”, minimalism, blue-eyed soul, industrial, adult contemporary, and jungle. Along the way, his image changed as many times as his musical style … but there was always the love. His “We love you” could have been just one more wanker rock legend sucking up to his audience. It isn’t. Watch it.

Then enjoy the magical production quality – just enough stuff happening, not too much – of the album version.

Scrolling through the comments on YouTube for this song, I came across one which I found especially touching. It said, simply, “I wonder how many suicides David Bowie has prevented with this song?”

I wonder, indeed.

I wonder how many people will discover – or re-discover – love, when they hear “Where are we now?”

*Surely one of the most influential albums of all time, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is – albeit vaguely – the story of a rock and roll character of whom the album purports to tell the life history.

Ziggy is the human manifestation of an alien being who is attempting to present humanity with a message of hope in the last five years of its existence. Ziggy Stardust is the definitive rock star: sexually promiscuous, wild in drug intake and with a message, ultimately, of peace and love; but he is destroyed both by his own excesses, and by the fans he inspired.

The character of Ziggy was inspired by British rock ‘n’ roll singer Vince Taylor whom Bowie met after Taylor had had a breakdown and believed himself to be a cross between a god and an alien; though Taylor was only part of the blueprint for the character, other influences included the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Kansai Yamamoto, who designed the costumes Bowie wore during the tour.

The Ziggy Stardust name came partly from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and partly, as Bowie told Rolling Stone, because Ziggy was “one of the few Christian names I could find beginning with the letter ‘Z'”. He later explained in a 1990 interview that the Ziggy part came from a tailor’s shop called Ziggy’s that he passed on a train, and he liked it because it had “that Iggy [as in Iggy Pop] connotation but it was a tailor’s shop, and I thought, Well, this whole thing is gonna be about clothes, so it was my own little joke calling him Ziggy. So Ziggy Stardust was a real compilation of things.”

Sometimes simple was best - it let the music shine

Sometimes simple was best – it let the music shine

Last night, for reasons so obscure they do not need elucidation, one found oneself with free tix for self, Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and Fruit Of One’s Loins at the Melbourne opening night of the latest run of Jersey Boys, the autobiographical re-telling of the rise and rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the mean streets of New Jersey to mega-stardom and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

First opening night I had ever been to. Always good to rack up a first when already ensconced in one’s middle years. I don’t suppose it’s likely to happen all that often, so the credit card treated us all to dinner on the pavement at an ancient bistro next to the theatre (the type where you have to ask the price of the bottle of wine then you shouldn’t be there) and it was really quite amusing watching minor celebs arrive and be interviewed on the red carpet and photographed in front of the banners for the show and all that fluffy nonsense. Wannabee starlets primped and preened and wandered around squeezed into dresses that resembled sequin-encrusted handkerchiefs rather than practical garments. Luckily it was a warm night.

The PR hacks and the journos and the publicists and the great and good of Melbourne society swirled around, all trying to work out who was looking at them without anyone noticing that it was them that was doing the looking, and in general, a good time seemed to be being had by all. The whole thing was about three millimetres deep in societal relevance, and all the more fun for that. The former conservative Treasurer of Australia, Peter Costello, sat behind and above us in the circle. What my Mum would have called “the cheap seats, for the genteel poor”. It was only continual nagging by the Memsahib that prevented me from pointing out to him that the socialists had the better seats.

This multi-award winning show, which has already done amazing business in the USA and around the world, just seems to roll on and on. Almost everyone I know had already seen it, and I had actually not bothered last time it was here – “Frankie Valli? Pfft!” – so I wasn’t overly geed up to finally make the show.

But what an error, Dear Reader! This was musical theatre at its most approachable, enjoyable, and even, on occasions, genuinely moving. All around the world right now I have friends and readers telling me how they are flocking to see the musical movie version of Les Miserables and coming away feeling sad and drawn. My advice? Forget “The Glums”, (it’s a thoroughly depressing book, it was a thoroughly depressing stage show, and now, apparently it is a thoroughly depressing movie), and hithe thee instead to the nearest production of Jersey Boys. Fly, if you have to. Because it’s a corker.

With a set that brilliantly combines the raw simplicity of steel, echoing the mills and hardships of the young lads’ backgrounds, with witty, eye catching video effects and massive TV panels (allowing the very clever tromp l’oeil effect of combining on-stage performance with genuine footage of the audiences watching the original Four Seasons performing on shows like American Bandstand), the overall effect is to encourage one to suspend disbelief entirely, and to feel one is back in the late 50s and 60s, witnessing the birth of a genuinely mass-movement popular music phenomenon, and the effect it had on both the participants and the society surrounding them.

Jeff Madden channels Frankie Valli so accurately all disbelief is suspended

The Melbourne production was previously singled out by critics as amongst the most impressive worldwide, and I am sure the same plaudits will rain on the heads of the current cast, choreographers, stage designers and musicians. At times, Canadian actor Jeff Madden channelled Frankie Valli himself with a passion and credibility (and the “voice of an angel” that made Valli so famous, with a natural falsetto that defied belief) that meant one had to pinch oneself to remember that the real Valli is now 78 and all this was a very long time ago. But all the cast were flawless. The sets were tight, the timing impeccable, the dialogue convincing, and above all, the music sublime. It was a perfect reminder, and in my case a reminder was needed, that these young people were responsible for some of the finest pop songs ever written and performed. Their talent and their popularity was certainly rivalling other mega groups like the Beatles at the time, or the later Abba, and they deserve to be recalled with affection and some awe. Especially the song-writing and producing skills of Bob Gaudio, charmingly brought to life by Decaln Egan.

What made the evening truly special were a few moments when the audience, swept away by the talent on display, both inherent in the music and in the performances of the young cast, hollered and whooped their full-throated appreciation.

As if taken somewhat by surprise, the cast allowed themselves a little self-regarding emotion, occasionally just taking a second to the thank the audience for their enthusiasm, throwing in the occasional bow, nods of thanks, and smiles, with sparkling eyes.

It was charming, unforced, and it seemed entirely appropriate.

It further blurred the line between history and today, between acting and reality, between New Jersey and everyone else, between the entertainers and entertained.

For a moment the bond between actors and audience really did feel like that curious and intimate mesh that binds pop idol and fan, that can make one feel bereft and bereaved at the death of a John Lennon or a Freddie Mercury, or in genuine awe of the athletic rawness of a Bruce Springsteen or Roger Daltry, or warmed by the sheer good naturedness of an Olivia Newton-John or Cat Stevens or fundamentally,and sometimes life-changingly, stirred by the righteous wrath of a Bob Dylan. In the music of these giants of the entertainment world we see glimpses of them, the real people behind the carefully-constructed images, and thus in turn of ourselves, expressed in new and meaningful ways.

Now and again, last night, we were privileged to feel what Frankie Valli and his friends gave their many fans. And it seriously rocked.

If you’ve forgotten, well, here you go. Do yaself a favour. Some of the video is a bit dodgy. The music sure as hell isn’t.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun loved the show too. As they did in Adelaide. And in Sydney, the Sunday Telegraph commented “Jersey Boys isn’t just a cut above most musicals;  it’s in a different league”. And the Syndey Morning Herald raved “This is easily the best musical ever – truly thrilling – the hits explode from the stage with verve, polish and conviction.”

You can also see exclusive footage of the Melbourne show with cast interviews on this blog.

Well there ya go, and now you know. Be there or be square, man.

I am working, dammit!

I am working, dammit!

So for some reason, I ended up on You Tube again this evening, following links with half an eye.

I really don’t end up there that often, whatever you may think from following the blog, but I did happen across a clutch of my favourite music all on one page so I thought I would share.

Be still my beating heart

It is hard to imagine a more beautiful lead singer than Susannah Hoffs. In a string of great songs with the Bangles – who could forget “Walk Like An Egyptian”? – a dance move I never captured then or now – she stole the hearts of a generation of males. Not to mention quite a few girl crushes going on, too, I shouldn’t wonder.

“Come on honey, let’s go make some noise.” Hoo-hah.

Oooh, lookie here

Then further down the page there was the immortal Robert Palmer’s Simply Irresistible.

Now this video clip is just so wrong on SO many levels. Love it. Love the editing. Love the song. Lover the performance. Love the girls and the choreography. Just a classic.

(I did used to know a young lady who looked exactly like one of the girls in the video. You know who you are. That could be why.)

Sadly, a heavy smoker, Palmer died in 2003 in Paris, France, at The Warwick Hotel, from a heart attack at the age of just 54. What a waste. Along with “Addicted to Love” he was responsible for two of the great pop-rock anthems ever recorded.

While we’re talking about catchy

Then again, was there ever a better hook in a song than in “Angel is a Centrefold”? And as for the dance routine, well, you may be sensing something of a theme developing.

Change of pace

So I had better change tack entirely; I was so pleased to come across this achingly beautiful song from Sinead O’Connor.

It’s easy to be a smart-arse about O’Connor. To say she’s led a controversial life – bedevilled, it is now revealed, by bi-polar disorder – is a bit like saying Everest is a high hill. But this is about as good as a ballad ever gets, written by the artist once known as and now known again as Prince of course, and she performs it brilliantly.

Genius was always inclined to the unusual. And this performance is genius on display.

Elkie’s a singer, damn right

Continuing my wandering around, I also came across this performance of Lilac Wine by the astounding Elkie Brooks.

This song was a constant accompaniment to my time at University. It always seemed to be one of the “grab a girl” options at the end of a disco in the Old Refectory. It remains one of the few and most honest songs about alcohol abuse. The point wasn’t lost on any of us, as we struggled to stay on our feet and grope our equally drunk partner at the same time as swaying lugubriously to Elkie’s mesmerising performance, lubricated with enough Wadworths 6X to float a fleet of battleships.

This lesser-known version, from a German TV show, is, I think, closer to the true nature of the song than the version delivered on Top of the Pops, which you can also find if you want, but honestly it’s not as good as this. Interestingly, Miley Cyrus has also recorded the song in her “backyard sessions” – and I am not a big Miley Cyrus fan, but fair play she belts it out really well.

And just how good is Elkie Brooks, by the way? Just track ‘em down for yourself. “Pearl’s A Singer”, “Fool if you think it’s Over”, “Don’t cry out loud”. What a voice.

Vinegar Joe for all you history buffs

She was one half of Vinegar Joe with a younger Robert Palmer too … wish I could have seen that.

This early recording is pretty crap quality, and right at the beginning of their time together, I think, but it gives a great indication of how they rocked together. Were they ever really that young? Apparently, yes.

I can’t help feeling that if Elkie Brooks had been American and not British she would have been considered one of the pre-eminent blues/pop singers of her generation.Now 67 years old, she is still going strong, apparently, and long may it be so.

Last but not least

My last favourite for today would have to be one of everybody’s faves, surely?

In 1979, I was in love. She was the first one, but not the last one. There is something about this song with is inscrutable, peculiar, obsessive, and it is, of course, blessed with one of the great choruses of all time. The musical production is simply brilliant.

What is the video about? Indeed, what’s the song about? Lord knows. But frankly, who cares? It’s something to do with loss of innocence, which is probably why it resonates with me so strongly: it smells of when I was passing uneasily into adulthood. I expect to get there one day.

Here’s a piece of trivia: this was the first video ever played on MTV. Did you know that?

Anyhow, I’d love you to nominate YOUR favourite You Tube clip, please. Tomorrow, back to miserable crap about Syria or the Republicans or world hunger or something. Meanwhile, just enjoy the music.

Janis Ian in 1969, and today. Did this woman really ever believe she was an “ugly duckling”? Surely not. And she is surely a beautiful soul, and one who effortlessly combined skill as a writer with genius as a composer. Respect.

… and I dial up one of those on demand radio station things to get some background music that helps the creative juices to flow, when suddenly Janis Ian comes on singing In the Winter.

Well, that was the end of productive work for a while, as it prompted a quick rush round the outer reaches of YouTube to remind myself of this exquisitely personal woman’s haunting music and lyrics.

Do yourselves a favour, and watch this interview and live un-plugged performance, including an hilarious little ditty she wrote about the release of her autobiography, which, as it happens, was very successful.

I reckon it’s the best 15 minutes you’ll give yourself this week. And if you can’t spend 15 minutes, just fast forward to her performance of At Seventeen at the end. If it’s possible, it’s even more heart rending now, as she settles so comfortably and productively into late middle age, than it was when she originally wrote it at 24 years old.

The pain, the humanity, the empathy, the understanding of the human condition. It leaves one breathless.

Remember, this was a woman who received death threats at 16 for writing and releasing a song in favour of inter-racial marriage. As poet Roger McGough once said “Words? Why, she could almost make them talk.”

Poet in pub

I am not playing pool until I can work out what the fuck rhymes with “buttock”.

People usually enjoy it when I post my own poetry here, and I am happy to do so, so long as some of you buy the book occasionally too. Remember, any profits benefit a number of wonderful charities. You can head to: http://tinyurl.com/7tzxxgg where it is available in both book format and download.

I am always – like most writers – pondering the nature of writing and the creative process. 

This is not mere self-absorption, I feel. Well, I hope it isn’t.

Like a musician who hears notes constantly in their head which won’t go away until he plays them, or an artist who perceives the lines and colours of the world in a particular way and feels compelled to depict them, so the writer is frequently the victim of his or her words, not their master or mistress.

Sometimes – often – I simply feel an urge to write things down, to express them just so. If I ignore the urge, it becomes a mental nagging, then an indescribable emotional itch, then a full-blown obsession.

Like all writers I have been tortured by words or phrases, and eventually tossed back the sweat-drenched sheets and stumbled angrily to my typewriter or computer, willing the damn things down onto the empty page, so I can get some damn sleep.

And as any writer will tell you, it is the day you forget your shiny new portable electronic device, or more prosaically, your notepad, that the thoughts come flooding thick and fast, insistently, clamouring for attention, and you have to press confused bystanders or friends into giving you pen or paper immediately less the internal howling becomes too intense.

So: I wrote a poem about it. As you do. (Well, as you do if you’re a poet.) About how writing doesn’t just invade my life, it really is my life – has been for as long as I can recall, actually – and the rest of my life goes on around it, sometimes uninterrupted, and sometimes completely dominated by it.

The poem’s very long, but I do hope you find it enjoyable. It describes a real evening, long, long ago. Deep in the last millennium. Or perhaps, an amalgam of evenings. The pub was the Leinster Arms in Collingwood, in Melbourne, which for a while I seemingly kept open almost single-handedly through my contributions, (it would have been cheaper to rent an office, as I later did), and I only reveal that location now because I am perfectly sure that no-one there remembers me at all, and most of those that I now report on are either dead, demented, or simply moved on. And anyway, the poem is written with affection, and “no names, no pack-drill”, eh?

I am sure other poets and writers of all kinds – indeed, creative people of all kinds – will find echoes of themselves in here.

The Writer, by Stephen Yolland