Archive for December, 2012

bizarroART: half baked! – a cake. me: a culpa

Friday, December 21st, 2012

half baked!   – a cake.  me: a culpa


I have been a fan of those popular baking-themed reality shows for a while now.

(I, myself, subscribe more to the Duff Goldman/ Ace Of Cakes school of jocular gastronomic philosophy rather than that of yeasty wiseguy Cake Boss Buddy Valastro)

So, today, I foolishly supposed that I too might just be accomplished enough to attempt the seemingly simple task of baking a birthday cake for My Old Lady.

Yet, as you can see from this photographic evidence, the only accomplishment I achieved today was degenerating the art and craft of baking back by 2,000 years.

Despite painstaking measurement and the cautious following of straightforward instructions, somewhere, somehow, more than likely in part to my amateurish impatience on a overconfident homestretch, things went horribly wrong.


The only surviving parts of this entire calamity, ironically the project’s most intentional, most detailed, and smugly incisive features, were the misspelt fondant inscription and whimsical decorations.

Yet within minutes of the cake’s completion, even these deft yet superficial touches succumbed, and melted off the cake faster than the Nazis at the end of Raider Of The Lost Ark, in so adding one final tragic chapter to what had now become more cautionary tale than sugary culinary treat.


I shudder unspeakably as I write this, at the mere thought of not only having to eat this myself, but also allowing others; other more innocent, god-fearing people than I, everyday people with small children, volatile pets or sensitive temperaments, ordinary  people with mortgages, responsibilities and true selfless purpose, the common folk  filled passionately with life’s verve and a taste for the finer things of the world, to partake of this monstrosity, as hesitant hostages of my home economical megalomania.

The horror, the horror, and mortal terror of even considering, willingly conceiving and thoughtlessly continuing to concoct such a hideously baked beast to full-blown fruition is something that was never covered by Chefs Goldman and Valastro, and my memory of this venture, these sickly saccharine scars against the palettes and glimpses of humanity, will no doubt trouble me for the rest of my days.

What remains are these photos, which are for insurance purposes.

It’s a chocolate cake with caramel filling, by the way.

“It’s not the end of the world,” she said.



bizarroMUSIC: The PATAH GAT BARK-R sessions

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

“…a post-apocalyptic trooper and his girlfriend are terrorised by a regenerated killer robot…”

Wonderful and magical things happen when you plug old guitars and shitty keyboards into a computer, jam the controls with your fists and then throw everything across the room…

Excerpts from sessions for a concept album in lieu of a failed end of days, somewhat assembled, recorded and produced by bizarrojerri, Snor City, Summer 2012/13.


boy girl bike

red dan

More to follow in 2013….

bizarroBOOKSHELF: Gonzo’s Incorrigible Bastard

Saturday, December 8th, 2012



Gonzo’s Incorrigible Bastard

“(There’s) only one way to cover a story like this, and make that a double, bartender, please…”

From Holidays In Hell

Hunter Thompson may have got all the drugs and the fame, Tom Wolfe the lifetime supply of exclamation points and white suits, and Norman Mailer the Pulitzers and the free boxing  tickets, but Patrick Jacob (PJ) O’Rourke, humourist and writer, and Gonzo/New Journalism’s lone conservative libertarian voice, always had the best lines.

You may not always agree with some of PJ O’Rourke’s haughty opinionated philosophies on politics, cars and international travel, but it is hard to protest when you’re doubling over in excruciating, uncontrolled laughter while reading his several classic tomes of politically-incorrect excess, some of the best, most literate and funniest satire, written in the last 40 years.

When an outspoken liberal champion like the equally caustic Bill Maher counts him as one of his favourite people, and the only person with more entries in the Penguin Dictionary of Humorous Quotations is Oscar Wilde – effectively making PJ O’Rourke the funniest person alive – you have the makings of one of journalism’s most entertaining and most erudite socio-political commentators since Mark Twain.  No one does smart and funny quite like Uncle PJ.

“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

From Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humourist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government.



PJ: a brief history

Like 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital Unit’s Max Klinger and the Willys Jeep, PJ is a proud product of Middle American Toledo, Ohio, borne of a modest third-generation Irish-American family in 1947. His father sold cars and his mother was a dancing housewife. He babyboomed into 60s collegiate life, earning his Masters in English from Johns Hopkins Graduate School and began work as a journalist for various underground hippie-themed publications (and some outlets that actually paid him) in Baltimore and New York.


He sharpened his emerging rapier wit with the celebrated satirical National Lampoon magazine during the seventies, becoming its editor-in-chief in 1978. Deciding that “the real world was funnier than anything National Lampoon’s writers could invent”, PJ then began freelancing fulltime as a professional globetrotting journalist-provocateur for various publications – including American Spectator, Forbes, Playboy, The Atlantic, The Weekly Standard and various other high-profile motoring, political and cultural periodicals. His most popular and most noteworthy contributions were for Rolling Stone magazine during the 1990s, where he eventually became foreign affairs chief and unofficial wit-at-large.


He covered both Gulf wars and various skirmishes, battles and stand-offs in between, while also been enticed with large expense accounts to visit several emergent countries (in Africa, the former Eastern Bloc, Asia and the Middle East), poking fun of their emerging political and economic systems and sometimes driving some of the most expensive and offensive cars over them too (“What would be a road hazard anywhere else, in the Third World is probably the road”).

Naturally, he has put everything he’s written into convenient book form and sold it all over again. PJ has published over 20 books covering politics, economics, travel, sport, and motoring, and all vaguely amusing bits associated with these subjects, and upsetting as many people as possible in the process.

Following a health scare in 2008, he now leads a comfortable, semi-retired existence on a homestead in New Hampshire with his wife and three children, covering various domesticated skirmishes, battles and stand-offs, while emerging every once and while with a terse, but droll word or two for the outside world, largely through far too infrequent column space in some of the best intellectual periodicals, public speaking appearances and pundit slots on most major American television and cable news networks, most of which really deserve many more hits on Youtube.


“There are a number of mechanical devices which increase sexual arousal, particularly in women. Chief among these is the Mercedes-Benz 380SL convertible.”

From Driving Like Crazy.

PJ’s Greatest Hits


“How to Drive Fast on Drugs, While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and not Spill Your Drink” (from Republican Party Reptile and Driving Like Crazy: 30 Years of Vehicular Hell-Bending)


His most significant piece for National Lampoon, examining the often feral connections between America, materialistic excess, substance abuse, sex and their cars. Unapologetically inappropriate and laugh out loud funny, the piece is a perfect example of his career evolution from the satirical Lampoon years to more astute observations of the American socio-political psyche.

Classic PJ line: “Name me, if you can, a better feeling than the one you get when you’re half a bottle of Chivas in the bag with a gram of coke and a teenage lovely pulling off her tube top in the next seat over while you’re going a hundred miles an hour down a suburban side street. You’d have to watch the entire Iranian air force crash land in a liquid petroleum gas storage facility to match this kind of thrill.”

 “Weekend Getaway: Heritage USA” and “In Whitest Africa” (both from Holidays In Hell collection)


Definitive examples of the PJ travel writing style – “go to unusual places and make fun of them”- the two pieces, one a visit to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Christian-themed amusement park, the other a visit to Apartheid-era South Africa, less than five years shy of Nelson Mandela’s New South Africa, show that PJ can take equally derisive, but honest and humourous pot-shots at foreigners and Americans, alike.

“In Whitest Africa”, published in Rolling Stone in 1987, offered, through conversations with ordinary South Africans gathered around – what else? – the proverbial braai and with an obligatory brandy & Coke, the magazine’s  young, hip readership a look behind the boerewors curtain of white minority society in the calm before the post-apartheid storm. Even almost 30 years later, the piece makes for fascinating reading for South Africans, on how the country was then perceived by the international community.

Classic PJ line: “…South Africa looks like California – same tan-to-cancer beaches, same granola’d mountains’ majesty…Johannesburg looks like LA…and its best suburb, Hyde Park, looks like Beverly Hills…(and like Beverly Hills) all the people who live there are white…and all the people who work there are not white. The only difference is the lady who does the laundry carries it on her head.”

The Bakker’s Heritage USA park is tackled with just as much ferocious acidity, with PJ going on a dirty, though reluctantly dry, weekend in the bosom of conservative, God-fearing middle America. Some significant observations regarding the evangelical movement and the rise of the polarising but politically powerful Christian Far-Right during 1980s that has had an indelible effect on American politics that still resonates strongly now.

Classic PJ line: “I almost don’t have the heart to make fun of these (Christians). It’s like hunting dairy cows with a high-powered rifle…then again, I have to consider what they would do to me if they caught me having my idea of a vacation – undressed bimbo in a sleazy Florida hotel room, bottle of Vaseline Intensive Care lotion, some drugged wine – in fact, you already know what (they would do) when they caught Jim Bakker. Hell, they want to hang the likes of Jim and me. All I want to do is rib them a little.”

Overall, the Holidays In Hell compendium reads like self-medicated take on Twain’s ground-breaking travelogue Innocents Abroad, highlighting self-deprecatingly the cliché of the proverbial American tourist with much glee and clever humour. PJ would, throughout his career, continue to return to perverting the travelogue format in other pieces compiled in books like Give War a Chance, Peace Kills and All The Trouble In The World. It has become his trademark, but the original Holidays…, though a little outdated, is some of his best work.

 “So Drunk” – experimental short fiction. (available in Age and Guile.)


A very literate and articulate ‘shaggy dog’ story, written early in his career for National Lampoon, PJ prefaces the piece with an affectionate disclaimer – “…not a short story, not even fiction, (yet) it’s also not fact, unless my drinking has led to much worse loss of memory than I can remember…”. It is also the only piece of his rejected by the usually laissez-faire attitude at Lampoon, his editor Julien Weber telling him, “The only people left on earth willing to advertise in this magazine are the liquor companies.”

Nonetheless, the ‘story’ is some of PJ’s finest writing, full of colourful characters, beautiful metaphorical significance (that often arises from overindulgence) and hilarious episodes of drunken excess and giddy stupidity, very much in the great spirit of Hunter Thompson’s Fear And Loathing.

*for a full overview of PJ’s formative years as well as some highlights from his National Lampoon and Rolling Stone careers, his memoir-style collection of unpublished writings in Age and Guile (Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut) 1970-1995, is highly recommended.

Classic PJ line: “…I’m really on a bender when I start carrying a drink, a real drink with ice cubes in a (real) glass, with me wherever I go: to the grocery store, for instance, or to the bank, or into the shower, which is a better place than you might think, if you pour your scotch strong and use plenty of ice. A little warm water never hurt a good blend like Chivas or Dewar’s, but a single malt should be had on the toilet or (over) the sink…”

On the Wealth of Nations (Analysing Adam Smith)


Economics can be fun, as PJ picks at and ponders the ground zero of all economic thought, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. The original text was door stopping, and for over two centuries, put the fear of God into many a student of economics, but PJ has taken all the boring bits out and condensed all Smith’s important theories into a compact 222 page pocket book one can sneak into exams with.

While it is PJ’s heaviest read – there is no way to get around the subject without falling into a vat of big words and bigger ideas – it is still rip-roaringly funny and easy to grasp for the layman with an interest in how ‘the man’ is ripping us all off. Hopefully one day, when humourists rule the earth, this will be a prescribed textbook.

Classic PJ line: “Smith devoted most of his career to a single philosophical project – the betterment of life. A modern reader is tempted to laugh. It is a hilariously big job. But many of us have undertaken hilariously big jobs such as raising children. We’re lured into the enterprise by the, so to speak, pleasures of conception. New beginnings are always fun. And Smith was intellectually in bed with the virgin idea of betterment.”

The CEO of the Sofa


A domesticated PJ’s first volume of tales from suburbia – the more recent Holidays In HECK is also recommended – sees him balancing a jet setting career of following international foolishness, as well as trips to Capitol Hill and the mechanics of American politics to say “what the hell..?”, all the while trying to convince his three-year-old she doesn’t need a cell phone and keeping his Old Lady lips unpursed.

Classic PJ line: “I love cell phones because cell phones punish the most discourteous people in the world – phone users – by giving phone users the punishment they deserve – phone calls.”

PJ Interviews Hunter S Thompson for the 25th anniversary of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (article from Rolling Stone Issue 748 1996)


A personal favourite of mine, this meeting of two modern journalistic/literary giants. The two writers never had much contact during their years at Rolling Stone, although PJ’s work did elicit much praise from Thompson, with PJ often making the lauded Hunter’s Gonzo Honor (sic) Roll, while as with many journalists and writers working at the magazine and surrounds, the Fear and Loathing author’s style and revolutionary literary precedents had significant influence on PJ’s output during his time at Rolling Stone.

The piece is somewhat short, in both length and expectation, but one can’t deny its magnitude for fans of both writers. The obvious contrasts between their politics, and equally, the similarities of their world views, intelligently inform the exchange and make it a historical document worthy of gonzo legend.

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Classic line: (On the genesis and back story of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas) “The rest is history. Sort of. Chemistry, definitely. Abnormal psych, for sure. Plus PE and lunch.”

The two’s previous recorded encounter, during Bill Clinton’s run for the 1992 US presidency, when, together with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner and seasoned economics writer William Greider, met with the aspirant Clinton on his home turf of Little Rock, Arkansas, to feel out this new young presidential player on behalf of the youth electorate that made up the magazine’s readership.

The meeting was significant in not only solidifying the youth vote for Clinton that election, but made Rolling Stone a significant and seriously regarded news outlet for future American political campaigning, and highlighting the magazine’s most important players, O’Rourke included, as bona-fide political commentators and tastemakers.


(Rolling Stone magazine’s William Greider, PJ O’Rourke, Jann Wenner and Hunter S. Thompson meet Bill Clinton in 1992.)

 “Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”

From All The Trouble in the World

WWPJD: Pretenders, Successors and Disciples

As with Thompson, Wolfe, Mailer et al, there have always been Gonzo imitators of O’Rourke’s biting, yet ultimately good-natured style, from across the ideological spectrum in most of the English-speaking world, including South Africa – put down the cigar for a minute and take a bow, David Bullard. Here are a few hits and misses from that breed.

Greg Gutfeld


Unashamedly upholding the right-wing agenda with some much needed satire is Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld, and for the most part, Gutfeld succeeds with suitably smug observations and well-timed deadpan humour in the often inept conservative Fox universe. Though at times he can be needlessly vicious, as is the dogma of Fox News, through various outlets in both electronic and print media, Gutfeld works confidently as an intelligently pragmatic, relatively balanced and fairly amusing conservative commentator, which in this day and age, are in short supply.

Dave Barry


Syndicated newspaper columnist Dave Barry is more of a contemporary to PJ O’Rourke than a successor, whose witty observations of “life’s little foibles” as Bart Simpson describes Barry, is probably some of the funniest words ever put into print. As PJ himself has said on many occasions, most notably in the piece “Book Tour” from Age and Guile:

“And there was Dave Barry, who would be a great guy if he weren’t a hundred times funnier than me, and from whom I stole (an agonisingly funny) paragraph about the types of hotel accommodation authors get on book tours”.  

A master of the one-liner and riotous non-sequitor, Barry veers purposely away from politics and other serious matters – although his later work has grown darker – rather choosing to impolitely comment on human stupidity, technology and popular culture. Suitably prolific as only a regular newspaper man can be, Barry has a vast catalogue of both fiction and non-fiction books.

Stephen Colbert


The US political comedy news shows, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The (Stephen) Colbert Report, owe a great debt to the political humour pioneered by O’Rourke. Particularly Colbert, whose on-screen persona as a comically-played outspoken and unrepentant conservative political commentator, an amplified parody  of very real outspoken and unrepentant conservative political commentators, namely Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity – radically blurring the  divisions between truthiness and fiction, seriousness and fun – with a tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating and intelligent humour that is without doubt O’Rourkesque, right down to the flawed superiority complex and the  ‘drive fast cars, shoot big guns and do whatever the hell I like’ school of modern libertarian philosophy.

David Bullard

Controversial British-born, South African-based banker-turned-opinion columnist David Bullard has blatantly made an entire writing career and a public image shtick out of the PJ O’Rourke template, right down to the over stylised by-line photograph of him smoking a cigar between sips of expensive scotch – something that I, personally, have always found rather pitiful.


When not being fired from the Sunday newspapers for racist rants, Bullard mercenaries for various publications, trading in on a manufactured bad-boy image with overhyped, and no doubt overpriced diatribes, modelled haphazardly on the PJ O’Rourke template: grandiose hyperbole, mixed metaphors and lavish tales of wine, women and cars, without much of the sophisticated humour and literary class of the original.

Sometimes, as in Bullard’s case, ‘derivative’ can be a dirtier word than ‘plagiarism’.

Jeremy Clarkson


The British love PJ O’Rourke. Something about his style drenched in public school literary references and unrepentant bad behaviour has always intrigued the average repressed Telegraph-reading Tory-voting, (possibly) sexually and pharmaceutically deviant white conservative male dinosaur.

Jeremy Clarkson is one such person, and he’s gone and made a one-man global cottage industry out of out-Rourking O’Rourke behind the wheel and the typewriter. Luckily for Clarkson, with some help from his friends at Top Gear and an understanding editor, he does it well and manages to get away with some improvised PJ riffs honed with his own brand of sheer controversial audacity, original wit and equal balance of likability and arrogance.

Though O’Rourke himself remains unconvinced that this new breed of media-savvy socio-political commentators, on either side of the ideological chicken, who use and abuse satire to neuter and destroy sacred cows, conformist thinking and utter stupidity, is not always such a good thing, saying in 2009, that “it does not do for a political humourist to be smug. We’re not offering policy alternatives; we’re pointing out political absurdities. We’re the ones switching on the kitchen lights and watching the cockroaches scamper. But we’re not going in there to stamp on them. That shouldn’t be our role.” (Daily Telegraph 20 September 2009)

“I’m a registered Republican and consider socialism a violation of the American principle that you shouldn’t stick your nose in other people’s business except to make a buck…”

From Republican Party Reptile

Big In Scotland


PJ O’Rourke has even, bizarrely, been eulogised in song, with this great track from one of the best bands to come out of Scotland, Big Country and the song Republican Party Reptile. Not surprisingly, considering the working class, socialist roots of the group, led by the late, great Stuart Adamson, the song’s message is less than complimentary, but the piercing tongue-in-cheek lyrics are something that would  impress the even author himself.

My uncle PJ gets crazy just as much as he can / A real party reptile for a northern man / He’s dressed like a republican / He thinks conservative / But he drives faster than I ever did / He’s into nuclear power and insider deals / He has a scene with baby oil and heels / He’s my favourite politician / When he comes on weird / Says I’m not fit for this office let’s get out of here / My, my, loves his ma and apple pie / Well, well, he’s the party’s favourite guy / I hope you like it / You know I’m going to take good care of you / I hope you like it / I hope next time you bring your friends with you / He’s a drinkin’, huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ son of a gun / He knows a surgeon’s gonna keep his wife young / Got industrial kickbacks in an offshore bank / Knows who to stand on and he knows how to thank / He likes to come take me for a night with the boys / He talks about the NRA and their toys / Got an automatic rifle in his pick-up truck / He drives me home when he’s in no state to walk

“Republican Party Reptile” words by Stuart Adamson

PJTV: 5 essential PJ O’Rourke moments on Youtube



A fascinating 2 hour Google+ live streamed debate featuring PJ holding his own with other great speakers including ?estlove, Jesse Jackson and activist Jemima Khan on the pros and cons of hip hop culture.

PJ is Johnny Foreigner, playing up his globetrotting fun poking image in this classic British Airways ad that made him a household name in the UK for about 5 minutes.



Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Divas, Less Bogus


Divas, divas everywhere

The label ‘diva’ is bandied about these days with such imprudence and frivolity that it’s became yet another empty marketing term, an all-purpose throwaway word that seeks to include just about every new  female singer, white or black, pop or r n’b, who arrives on the larger musical radar armed with a sassy music video filled with overt sexuality juxtaposed against overwrought faux feminist  lyrics – no doubt written by some sort of Oz-like male Svengali – all designed to inspire impressionable young girls – and boys, in some cases – with vapid dreams of social empowerment and spiritual independence, all set to the bumped and ground rules of a rigid, misogynistic musical template.

Technically the term ‘diva’ is defined by philosophical eggheads as: a woman performer of outstanding talent, derived from the Italian noun diva, a female deity. The folks at Urban Dictionary take a more modern approach to the term, including:

“A diva is a female performer…who is extremely talented but very imperious and temperamental. But the distinguishing factor is that her talent permits (this) behaviour…She is very professional, with a low tolerance for incompetence. A diva is NOT (a) no-talent pop singer who thinks everyone should yield to her every whim…and who is unnecessarily rude, mean and bitchy, just because she “knows what she wants” and revels in being high maintenance. These women do not deserve the title of diva, because they have no redeeming talent or quality. They are just simply loud and obnoxious. True divas should be treated with respect for their enormous talent and strong will.”

So then, in a musical context, a diva should personify the perfect equation of inspired, innovative song writing and strong performances, with more than a measure of authentic, outspoken, feminist principles. No amount of media fluffing, meat dresses, strange baby names, gargantuan performance rider demands can replace and redefine this ideal of the diva, and, accordingly, there have only been a handful of real independent, rule-defying, mould-breaking, iconoclast divas – Aretha, Janis, Grace Slick, post-Motown/Rick James Teena Marie, Ruth Copeland; and latterly, Adele, Zola Jesus and Janelle Monáe.

(Okay, we can include a younger Madonna in this group as well, but the less said about Old Granny-Gollum-Arms’ more recent exploits on record and from the stage the better.)

Ruth who?

Ruth Copeland

One of the greatest, most understated and criminally overlooked musical divas in history was British-born Ruth Copeland, who, during the 1970s funk rock revolution (as led by George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic collective –of whose early recordings she was very much an integral part) released a collection of self-penned folk/funk/rock songs, produced by Clinton and backed by his best P-Funk players.


A fusion of the best qualities of Janis, Joni and fellow female funk forerunner  Betty Davis, Ruth faded into obscurity almost as soon as she arrived, constrained by the technological limitations and the male-dominated music hierarchy of the funk genre, yet her music made her very much ahead of her time. Elements of her work can still be felt, however slight, in later generations of singer-songwriters who wore their hearts on their sleeves and still had some funk in their trunk, including Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Janelle Monáe. It’s not too often you hear mandolins and Northumberland pipes on a funk record, equally matched with measured poetic storytelling, naked introspection and truckloads of authentic feistiness.

For the full strange story of how a white English Rose defined the sound of America’s funkiest rock collective, read this great Funk Or Die blog post from 2011:

Pop music divas: an unnecessarily

medium-length diatribe,

but good for context…


As striking as the Copeland example is, today’s current crop of pop singers, the Lady Gagas, Beyoncés and Rihannas – and all their reasonable fauxsimiles in-between – are as conspicuous in their attempts to bypass this combination of solid talent and artistic astuteness, and sadly, choose to build their brand rather than their skill and repertoire, ingratiating to an increasingly celebrity-obsessed media culture. Sure, the catchy songs are there, but with little substance that does nothing to ensure certain longevity. We will probably always remember Lady Gaga, whether she lives or dies, fails or succeeds, becomes President of the United States or becomes a butcher, but will we even remember her song Poker Face, will we even care about it in five years’ time? Most likely not.  Compare that to Aretha’s Respect, Adele’s Someone Like You or any selection from the Carole King songbook.

Sure, it sounds a little brutal, but it’s true. Pop music has always had a manufactured element to it, from Elvis, The Monkees etc. to today’s TV talent show cannon fodder. It’s just that music, today’s popular music, has become a little more insincere about it all. Don’t sell me Rihanna as one of this generation’s most defining voices and talents when she doesn’t even write her own music, let alone lyrics, and is more interested in tweeting her turbulent relationship status than making music we can all listen to five years from now.

Suite Ingénius


But now, thankfully, just when we all thought we would be stuck with these overpriced, over stylised media creations sold to us like bottles of mineral water or the newest iPhone, along comes Janelle Monáe to vie confidently for the label of game-changing diva, in the truest spirit of those who came before her.

To the general radio-dialling public, she’s best known as the voice of drifting coolness in the background of pop/rock group Fun’s otherwise uninspiring 2012 one-hit-wonder-in-the-making “We Are Young”. It would be one of pop music’s great travesties if she remains relegated to this single “and featuring…” footnote, based on the thrill of hearing her truly original and mind-blowing solo work, notably on the sci-fi soul of her ArchAndroid project.


Monáe’s 2010 concept album The ArchAndroid: Suite II and III is more than just an album, or even just a concept album, it is an event. An engulfing experience, music that stays with you for days, months, after the first listen.

The Monáe music philosophy follows probably closest to that of the progressive works of Me’Shell Ndegéocello’s weighty urban funk, but more than anything this album evokes the spirit of Stevie Wonder’s experimental synth-heavy era as a dense genre-hopping collection of good solid songs thoughtfully deliberated, performed and produced.

Aided and abetted by a competent unit of innovative musicians and a respectable guest list made up of some of hip-hop’s left-of-centre talents including Outkast’s Big Boi, spoken word artist Saul Williams and all overseen, but not meddled with, by Sean Puffy Combs as executive producer, Janelle drives ArchAndroid from the front, stamping her commanding personality on the album right from the opening seconds of the album.

Each chapter in the ArchAndroid concept is a new and different direction, flipping over the ballad-structure of “Cold War” with some distinctive and catchy electronica beats, turning syrupy and sweet around Wondaland’s future-funky robot fable – the album’s ultimate theme, inspired in part by Fritz Lang sci-fi and Bowiesque alienation, is dystopian “dance or die” – and punchy guitar-based funk-punk and inspiring manipulation and debunking of the usual r n’b clichés in between. The album is all or nothing affair, and while there are stand out tracks that can be consumed apart from the broader palette – including the criminally overlooked “Tightrope”, the album’s lead single – the album, like a good book, great movie or bottle of something special, should be enjoyed in one session to be fully appreciated.

Fistful of Divas: 10 bizarrojerri favourites.


(as always, by no means an exhaustive list here. There are great many artists and tastes out there, covering all genres of music. These are just some of my favourite artists and their stand-out tracks. You’re all strongly urged to seek further if unfamiliar with the female singer-songwriter genre.)

Janelle Monáe – Cold War

The song that Beyoncé, Rihanna and the rest wish they could write and sing as confidently as Janelle. Though upbeat and filled with some remarkable musical flourishes than defy modern r n’b cliché, lyrically the song is filled with jarring pathos and authentic severity. A notable highlight in a whole of album of highlights.

Zola Jesus (with M83) – Intro

Sublime and ethereal, Zola Jesus is an alternative universe’s Gaga. Blending, in her slowly emerging career, bedsit beats and lo-fi electronica with a deep emotional vocal style percolated through classic gothic influence, Zola is a thoroughly underrated talent. This opening track to M83’s 2011 verbose and hugely popular electronica opus brings Zola to wider audience, and rightly deserved. Slightly more accessible than Bjork, her music is deceptively cinematic and sweeping. Buy anything with her name on.

Adele – Cold Shoulder

After all the tears, the awards, the Bond theme and the gazillion copies of her sophomore “21” out there across the free world, continuing to bring families together (both my father-in-law and I own copies), it is interesting to look back to the very beginning of Adele Atkins’ burgeoning world domination, as a wide-eyed  nineteen-year-old innocent plumped, so to speak, for undeniable success with a debut filled with trademark lovelorn balladry, childlike reverence for the simple things and confident music backing that goes beyond the standard overly programmed Brit-pop it was released into battle against. Highlights include Chasing Pavements, Hometown Glory and this proto-Rolling In The Deep that give us a fair idea of how Adele has matured and progressed in her short, but credible career.

Ruth Copeland – The Medal

Though not one of Ruth’s fierier funk records with P-Funk, this brooding anti-war love song builds into a rowdy band vs. singer jam that holds much promise for a much lauded but ultimately unfulfilled career. She now farms organically somewhere in Wales.

Stevie Nicks – Rhiannon (with Fleetwood Mac) / Edge of Seventeen (solo)

Personally, I’ve always been a Christine McVie kind of guy. What can I say, I like the nice girls.  Nicks’ racy vixen counterpoint to McVie’s more dignified folksy balladeer was part of a dynamic that made The Mac one of most successful bands of the 1970s, even when the band drifted into the middle of the adult contemporary road. (Although anyone who’s heard McVie’s rousing take on I’d Rather Go Blind – originally performed by the godmother of divas Etta James – with her first group Chicken Shack will testify, she could confidently envelope the tortured soul of a blues diva.) However, Nicks made it part of her iconography beyond the realm of the group, inspiring everyone from Courtney Love, Beyoncé and Sarah McLachlan. The song Rhiannon, from the Mac’s legendary Rumours album, solidified her witchy persona with a concoction of shadowy medieval mythology and sensually delivered danger. Later, during a successful solo career in the 1980s, the popularity of her heavily symbolic rock hymn to youth and mortality, Edge of Seventeen, not only made her a household name, this inspirational and important feminist missive solidly declared her importance as a great diva icon. The song’s distinctive 16th note guitar riff went on to become the inspiration, years later, behind the Destiny’s Child ersatz empowerment record Bootylicious.

Bjork – Oh So Quiet

Not Bjork’s – Iceland’s answer to Eartha Kitt- most defining moment, musically – the track was from her first solo debut in 1996, and as many fans will argue, she has since evolved beyond these early songs with her unique brand of vocal electronica, avant garde sound experiments and overall general strangeness, most recently on Biophilia and its remix Bastards. Oh So Quiet, a rousing jazz-infused stomper that wouldn’t seem out of place in a production of Annie, was early evidence of her ability to subtly subvert her public image as an emerging ingénue and clarify her individualistic musical persona through a hit song. Armed with an innovative and entertaining video, the song was not quite compatible with the rest of the musical environment of the era – grunge/alt rock, acid house and over produced r n’b – but its distinctive quirkiness was enough to make Bjork memorable and secure her first number one hit. Today, in-between beating up journalists at airports and wearing ‘dead’ swans around her neck to movie premieres, Bjork’s enigmatic diva status has been further enhanced by a hands-on authoritarian and secretive approach to composing and recording her bizarre music outside convention, with a diversity of unknown global talents from different musical disciplines and genres.

Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill

Nobody makes listeners more cosily uncomfortable than Kate Bush. A prodigious but by no means a prolific talent, Kate does not merely write and perform music, she conceives, gestates and gives birth to songs. On Running…she plays volatile and vulnerable with equal measure, building an epic saga for her characteristic ruminating Romantic heroine around a delicate pulse, slowly eroded by rising synthesised atmospherics. Listening to Kate Bush can be an overwhelming experience, so it’s probably a good thing she only comes around with an album every five years, and hasn’t performed in public since 1982. True divas don’t do tours, it seems.

Millie Jackson – (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right


There aren’t enough divas in the history of music brassy enough to appear sitting on a toilet for an album cover, but Millie Jackson did it for her album “Back to the S**t!” and in the process got named one of more tasteless album covers of all time. Besides causing controversy with her album cover art, Millie managed to write and produce some of the finest, funkiest and most outspoken soul/disco records of the 1970s. While her duet albums with Isaac Hayes were her most popular, it’s her raw and unabashed solo albums that fully epitomise her rude and rowdy musical persona with a heartbeat of gold.

Teena Marie – Behind The Groove


Despite being moulded into a blue-eyed soulstress and disco queen, first in a volatile partnership with Rick James and then later with Motown’s Berry Gordy, by 1980, Teena Marie had finally found her independence with a distinctive vocal style and impressive song writing skills making her one of more prominent disco/soul singers of the 80s. Self-styled as the “Blackest White Woman Ever”, she wrote and played all her own music, with a soul music sensibility considered by many to be as authentic as any of her African-American contemporaries.  The song Behind The Groove is one of the purest, funkiest fusions of the soul disco era. A close friend of Marvin Gaye, whose work, life and death would have a profound effect on her own music; she found re-emergence during the late 90s as a collaborator with another prominent music widow – Biggie Small’s Faith Evans –as well as playing matriarch to many of the neo-soul genre’s best emerging female singers, including Joss Stone. Her unexpected death in 2010 saw a well-deserved revival and re-evaluation of her music.

Freddie Mercury – Killer Queen

But of course, the title of world’s greatest diva would go to a man, but deservedly, that man is Freddie. Checking all the boxes for diva immortality, the Queen frontman not only played hard, out-Gagging Gaga herself in legendary diva behaviour, but also worked hard, writing and performing some of rock music’s greatest and most unforgettable songs. Singlehandedly changing the way rock music is played – multi-genre mini rock operas, innovative recording techniques – and consumed – embracing the importance of image and theatricality in music video and live performance, there was and still is only one Freddie Mercury, often imitated, but never replicated and never to be replaced. Killer Queen is an early example – from the 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack – of Queen’s multi-layered music performance and Freddie’s enigmatic, energetic lyrics. The group would go on to greater, more illustrious heights, but this is evidence that the true Freddie Mercury flash and style was always there, just waiting for the world to catch up.

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