Archive for February, 2013

bizarroMUSIC: I Will Survive…

Friday, February 8th, 2013

I Will Survive…

(…by mercenarying my wordsmithery to school girls for their oral projects.)

*a recent clandestine assignment for a friend of a friend’s boss’ daughter who needed some words for a class speech on the emotional impact of music…or some such…the brief suggested I use Madonna’s Material Girl, I suggested they take a flying lesson… and wrote this instead:

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Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive is, undoubtedly, one of pop music’s greatest recordings.

Simply, with an ageless musical motif of stylish funky rhythms and dramatic symphonic melodies, I Will Survive is also one of music’s catchiest songs.

The fact that the song was recorded during one of modern music’s most vapid and disposable eras: late-1970s disco years; yet sounding as fresh and sophisticated today as it did then, makes the song a true timeless classic.

Unfairly,  I Will Survive has come to define the rather forgettable disco genre for many, but with the song’s often overlooked underlying lyrical elements – some of most emotional and compellingly honest ever sung – it rightly deserves closer assessment, and, crucially, a continued appreciation.

Comedienne (name deleted for some or other reason) calls I Will Survive her “ten tubs of ice cream, fifteen romantic comedies and 25 sessions with my shrink all wrapped into one beautiful 3 minute slice of disco healing. I dance, I cry, I laugh, I call my mother and then listen to it all over again.”

“At first I was afraid, I was petrified,” goes the song’s iconic opening line, and while the song literally tells the story of lost love, of a relationship ending less than blissfully, and of a woman poised delicately in the destructive midst of mistrust and betrayal, the lyrics’ greater meaning, along with the song’s soaring anthemic chorus, can be just as easily read as a rallying call to self-reliance, self-resilience and self-affirmation in even the most chaotic of circumstances.

The song, seeped with a strong revolutionary lexicon and vivid poetic imagery, is also one of the earliest pop culture prototypes for the feminist praise song, an indelibly affecting journey of discovery in an almost Damascusian tradition.

I Will Survive’s manifesto stands proudly alongside other great empowerment declarations such as Aretha Franklin’s Respect, Madonna’s Like A Prayer, Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and Adele’s Rolling In The Deep.

As one of the most provocative, most honest and most emotional pop music artefacts of the 20th century, I Will Survive’s message of perseverance in the face of adversity, and the uncompromised independence of the modern woman make it a song far ahead of its time, more relevant today than it ever was during the heady days of its disco origin.

(fin)

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bizarroMUSIC: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Me and Christine McVie:

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours

and its role in my rock n roll downfall.

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When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike and listen to my Walkman all around the small town from whence I spawned. I never had much music to choose from back then, apart from a couple of my favourite aunt’s obscure rock vinyls, most of which I had yet learnt to understand and appreciate – besides, it was a little difficult to ride around on your bike holding a record player.

The only cassette I had, inexplicably, was Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. I had no idea whose it was, how I stumbled upon it, but I was sure I didn’t buy it for myself, so it seemed as though it had been delivered by the generous, but enigmatic gods of adult-orientated West Coast pop/rock.

(Thank them for not giving me The Eagles.) Somehow The Mac and I collided between a Walkman and a bike ride.

One of the highlights of this innocent time with Rumours was the song You Make Loving Fun, one of Christine McVie’s contributions to the album. Sometimes, back then, when the double A batteries would begin to run low, the song would end up sounding a little like this:

Besnard Lakes – You Make Loving Fun.

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As I’ve said before in these pages, I’ve always been more of a Christine McVie than a Stevie Nicks kind of guy. McVie, much like Stockard Channing’s Rizzo to Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy in Grease, (another significant pop culture episode from around the same time of my childhood) went a long way to determining my tastes in feminine charms. Okay, so maybe Nicks was too witchy to take home to mother, but McVie, by comparison, seemed even darker, more mysterious, an indefinite entity.

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See her version, with early 60s English blues group Chicken Shack (under her maiden name Christine Perfect), of the Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind – probably one of the finest, and saddest, love songs ever recorded:

You Make Loving Fun, on the other hand, is one of those great uplifting love ditties, with a majestic and soaring chorus. Quite naturally a perfect road trip song, be it by bike or car. Despite being in the midst of a painful breakup with John McVie during the making of Rumours, Christine still managed to form one of music’s most touching, candid and optimistic narratives.

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There’s a recent piece in Mojo magazine, which goes into great detail, dissecting the making of the Rumours album and justifying Fleetwood Mac’s importance as a vital piece in the jigsaw of modern music history, so I won’t go into great detail here, as the article is an enlightening read into the band’s origins.

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The album was released into 1977’s unpredictable shitstorm of punk, disco and other new philosophies of art and music, a time when genres like the distinctive overly produced West Coast post-hippie pop/rock that Fleetwood Mac was part of, while still proving commercially popular, but critically, were regarded as uninspired and unoriginal.

The Rumours album has been long been derided as one of those horribly ostentatious self-indulgent middle-of-the-road examples of what was wrong with music at the time. An opinion no doubt helped by the album’s most horribly ostentatious self-indulgent  middle-of-the-road pop song – Don’t Stop, the album’s lowest point.

In the context of the whole album, the song works well enough, but while the song made millionaires out of the five Macs – drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsay Buckingham – Don’t Stop, the album’s most successful single, is truly a horrible song, the kind they put on those obligatory Best Of The Seventies compilations, the kind they use in a million television commercials for insurance companies (“don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” : its built-in tagline) and the kind of song they use as an anthem for political campaigns – which is exactly what Bill Clinton did in the nineties, so much so that the song and band enjoyed an unexpected resurgence during Clinton’s time in the White House, culminating in the group not only playing both his victory rally and inauguration, but almost every other notable presidential occasion during his 8 years as POTUS.

Bill, or someone in his camp, really, really liked Don’t Stop.

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That said, the rest of the album, thankfully, has managed to survive stronger than that one populist element. Today, it is recognised as a landmark pop/rock album, with fans as diverse as Billy Corgan, RHCP’s John Frusciante, Diana Krall and many of rock and folk’s new generation, judging by the impressive cast Mojo magazine has managed to assemble to record tributes for the issue’s cover disc: notable stand outs include a lushly textured rendition of Go Your Own Way by sophisto-pop group Dutch Uncles, a rootsy Oh Daddy by Mary Epworth and the aforementioned Besnard Lakes druggy read of You Make Loving Fun.

Rumours Tour Promo Photo

Behind, and in spite of, all the drugs – as legend had it, a communal bag of cocaine on the mixing console was par for the course during recording – as well as the histrionic soap opera of breakups, divorce and infidelity between members that went into the making the album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours has, rightfully, gone on to become the 14th biggest album of all-time, and its legacy justifiably reconsidered by the strength of its songs.

From Stevie Nicks’ Gold Dust Woman, the ultimate small-town girl in the big city anthem, to the otherworldly Dreams, even with the world’s worst rhyming couplet: “…thunder only happens when it’s raining/Players only love you when they’re playing…”, from Go Your Own Way’s deceptively complex structure (hear Mick Fleetwood’s drumming and Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar solo as examples  of why both are music’s most underrated players), to the desert blues stomper The Chain, the album’s most collaborative and accomplished masterpiece; each element of Rumours is a work of great pop art.

*for more info on the making of the album, check out issue 230 / January 2013 of Mojo magazine, and here at the Rumours Wikipedia page.  

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bizarroCURRENTLY… January 2013

Friday, February 1st, 2013

A selection of some of the pop culture items that are currently floating the boat – or not, as the case may be, Mr Kaufman – here at the Bizarrojerri Corporation.

Biffy Clyro – Opposites

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Firstly, before I say anything about the new double album from Scotland’s favourite power rock trio, I’d like to mention a girl named Melanie, who I worked with a few years back, and who attempted with all her might to get me to listen to her favourite band, which I, as a bit of rock music snob, originally rebuffed without hearing a note. I really thought, judging by their name, that Biffy was some sort of cheesy derivative American punk rock band. But I was very wrong, as I discovered about two years ago when I first heard their song Mountains.

Melanie, all you had to say back then was that they were from Scotland and my interest would have been suitably piqued instantly. Never mind, though, I have finally seen the light in a near religious fervour. I now have had their entire catalogue, dating from their debut Blackened Sky in 2002 (raw punky and noisy, tight and with much promise) right up to their commercial breakthrough Only Revolutions (2009) (containing some of the most original and catchy rock music made in years, including singles The Captain, Bubbles and Many A Horror). I’d had this entire catalogue in my car on continuous play for over a year. Within a few short years, they have become one of my favourite bands.

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So it was with the giddiness of a catholic visiting the Vatican, that I finally got my hands on the new 2013 album, a double album three years in the making. Though this vast and broad collection may prove quite daunting for a first time listener, Opposites is filled with the band’s usual mix of solid song writing, tight performance, a strong combination of the quiet/loud quotient, and some of the best riffs and most unique musical ideas heard in rock today.

I always like to joke that it seems that its only me and the majority of the Scottish youth who listen to Biffy, but the band is actually hugely popular in the UK, and while I am sure there are more than few fans in South Africa, on the strength of the singles Stingin’ Belle and Black Chandelier, and a bit of word of mouth, this new album could give them a well-deserved breakthrough into the mainstream. Even though it’s only January, Opposites is currently a strong contender for my favourite album of 2013.

Thanks Melanie, wherever you may be today, I now know you meant well all those years ago. I have finally come round to Mon The Biff.

Norman Mailer – The Fight

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“…it’s difficult to concentrate with the ghost of Norman Mailer swiping you across the face with a bible, right hooking you in the ribcage with the Koran and south pawing your gut with an almanac of African folklore, yelling into bloodied eardrums:  ‘respect the words, boy…these are the greatest ever written, the most significant since Conrad pierced this very same particularly wretched tributary on the heart of darkness…this is greatest saga since the Iliad, the most celebrated contest since Cain smote Abel…Respect. The. Goddamn. Words!’ With sweat and tears and blood and snot and shit and spit running out of every orifice, prostrated on the mat, fists pounding to ten, I respected the hell out of each and every one of them.”

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In the recent atmosphere of cracked sporting heroes – if your idea of heroic sport is grown men vampiring for competitive advantage and getting buggered in the bum by a bicycle seat around France for three weeks – and  impotent sport teams fuelled by their own inadequacy and the bureaucratic corruption of their handlers, and empty vessel ( a calabash, perhaps?) tournaments, that feed the egos of the few and fortunate, and the cost of which could, but does not, feed and school the masses, rather than turn them into beer-guzzling flag-waving zombie mobs; in this current mood I decided to seek solace in a more dignified sporting prowess, one where kings stood toe to toe, talked a good game and played for glory before money.

Boxing, more specifically, the golden age of modern boxing, from the early 1960s to the late seventies.  The highpoint of that era without doubt was the 1974 bout between Muhammad Ali and George Forman in Kinshasa, Zaire, billed and styled by the burgeoning, bombastic boxing promoter Don King, as ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’, a fight so intense and brutal it literally contributed to making Ali the man is today, that is: riddled with Parkinson’s Disease. However, the fight also greatly contributed to creating the Ali legend, which we still recognise as the Greatest. Not the greatest boxer, not the greatest sportsperson, simply the Greatest. And it also went a long way to make George Forman the greatest kitchen appliance salesman in the world.

In addition to being recorded for prosperity in one of the first ground-breaking worldwide satellite television broadcasts, the fight has been immortalised in both literature and film, notably in Norman Mailer’s The Fight and in the final act of Michael Mann’s Ali biopic starring Will Smith as Ali – other examples include a passionate but knowledgeable account by proto-sports Gonzoist George Plimpton and the excellent documentary When We Were Kings, which contains all the original footage of the fight, as well as interviews with all the event’s main proponents.

Mailer’s book, in particular, is an intense look at not only the fight, which is told in excruciating detail, round by bloody round, in the closing pages, but also an examination of art and science of boxing itself, something Mailer describes Ali as turning into “a 20th century art”.

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The story of the fight’s build-up, the months Ali and Forman spent in Zaire preparing for the bout, is volubly detailed with some great allegories, particularly in Mailer’s deep examination of African folklore and philosophy. He also goes a long way to explaining the synergy of the African-American mind-set with continental Africa, the original motherland, both physically and spiritually.  He is scathing in his portrayal of Don King, the fight’s promoter, in this his first high-profile bout – King would go on during the 1980s and beyond to define the modern business of boxing, some saying to the sport’s detriment.

Mailer also has some choice words for Zaire’s then President (for life) Mobutu, as a prime example of how, even in those early days of African post-colonial independence, the problems of corruption, greed and megalomania would taint and sadly define the era. Mobutu co-sponsored the fight’s cost and prize monies using government coffers, eventually taking a sizable kickback to his Swiss bank account. The significant sadness of two black men beating each in a ring for money in front of thousands of dirt-poor Zairians is not lost on Mailer.

Professional boxing, thanks in part to Don King and the backroom politicking  behind this fight, would eventually go on to splinter into various factions, and turn the sport into a glitzy money game, much like most sport today. However, the purity of this last great fight has been capably recorded by Mailer as a glowing but honest tribute to a fierce but noble sport.

Somewhere – Sofia Coppola

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It’s difficult to get into Coppola’s measured and patiently rendered story of  a relationship between a hip young Hollywood star – played by a surprising Stephen Dorff – and his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning). The first 15 minutes contains no significant dialogue and some uneasy listlessness which, if you can get past, pays off gradually throughout the rest of the film and into its understated coda.

Coppola – daughter of independent film’s Godfather Francis Ford – has made this movie before – a series of short, subtle vignettes that separately say nothing significant, but viewed as a whole speak volumes – in Lost In Translation which busted loose the ghost of Bill Murray’s thespianism and introduced the world to Scarlett Johanssen’s lips. But without the bizarre clunky-but-you-love-it Murray facetiousness and Scarlett sexiness to buoy it, Somewhere is a different and more difficult animal to catch. As a viewer you have to work with the film and dig deep to fully appreciate the film’s hidden nuances of ambient noise, whispered dialogue and lingering camerawork completely.

Stylistically, Coppola is more than accomplished, creating vivid and memorable paintings out of almost each frame, thanks in part to the film’s atmospheric use of the legendary Chateau Mormont hotel – a residence of choice for some of Hollywood’s hippest (John Belushi died here, Johnny Depp and the Red Hot Chili Peppers hang out by the pool when in town). The hotel’s quirky, but not overbearing collection of residents, staff and mise-en-scene help create an evanescent third ‘character’ subtly supporting the two leads. In the hands of a more conventional  writer and director this story could have turned into a slushy and blatant Oscar-baiting cheese fest, but Coppola continues to prove she is one of the most original, yet most under-appreciated, filmmakers of the last fifteen years. Essentially, as a film that demands your full attention , but refuses to force feed you, Somewhere is hard to like, but easy to love.

Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman

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I am so sick of Charlie Kaufman. He is a self-absorbed one-trick pony, a writer, and now filmmaker who wallows so humourlessly in his own earnestness and then gormlessly insisting that the very nature of film storytelling be so extensively and pointlessly rewired so that we pay more unwarranted attention to him.  He’s like a Woody Allen who forgot to refill a Ritalin prescription.

And Being John Malkovich is one of my favourite films ever, but without the absurdity of a Spike Jonze or the visual mindboggling of a Michel Gondry, Synecdoche, New York is just an incomprehensible and unpronounceable mess of a movie. It’s painful to even write about it here. This movie has shaken me off so-called independent art film so much; I have had to watch the entire American Pie series just to cleanse my palate. I like films that fuck with me, but I don’t like a film that rapes me with a dog-eared copy of Fellini For Dummies and then feels sorry for itself afterwards. Buy a Mad magazine once in a while, Mr Kaufman.

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