The Informer

Been a decade or so since I saw John Ford’s The Informer and though I remembered it was riveting and powerful, unrelentingly so, I’d forgotten what a kick to the solar plexus that ending is. Jesus. Audiences in 1935 must have sat in stunned silence afterward for several long seconds. Talkies were only a few years old and I doubt they’d ever experienced anything like that before. Nearly a century later it’s still so intense it’s uncomfortable to watch and as the credits roll you’re left staring at the screen for a few long seconds, not feeling good about yourself at all.

Recommended, obviously.

Wizard of Oz

Watching Wizard of Oz. This was a big national event when I was a kid, the one time all year you could see the Wizard of Oz and families would crowd around the TV to watch. CBS reaped incredibly high Neilsen ratings. It became one of my childhood memories. The Wizard of Oz was one of those rare things that stayed the same as we moved back and forth across the country, over and over. I’ve only seen it a couple times since then. The technicolor startles me everytime. When I watched it as a kid it was in black and white. We didn’t have a color set for years. My dad could keep any old TV running forever, so we had a black and white set long into the color era. Dorothy would open the door of the house and if she and Toto weren’t in Kansas anymore the hues gave no clue. My dad filled us in. The road was bright yellow he said. But I had no idea it was as bright as it looks now. Crazy yellow. Psychedelic yellow. And all those crazy midgets.

Shootout at the Fantasy Factory

Hearing this tune always reminds me of my pre-punk rock life. If you’re old enough you had a completely different existence before you first heard the Ramones or Sex Pistols. We liked lots of hippie music and had lots of hippie thoughts, though I can’t remember most of them. Anyway, I used to have this album. It was the Traffic album that had what, three songs? Maybe four or five, I can’t remember. Apparently all the touring and drugs was taking its toll on the songwriting. Sometimes I feel so uninspired, Stevie sang in his most mournful rock star voice, sometimes I feel like giving up. Subtle. And then there was Roll Right Stones, which I always assumed was another of those Winwood way cool English jazz hippieisms I never could figure out—the lyrics to Low Spark of High Heeled Boys on the previous record took me years of exegesis. Turns out the Roll Right Stones are actually a trio of megalithic monuments out in the English countryside dating back to the Neolithic. We didn’t have Wikipedia in the seventies, so I just figured it meant cool or groovy or keep on truckin or whatever. I wasn’t the brightest kid. Whatever the title means, Roll Right Stones does eventually cook, even wail a bit, but it felt like half a Dead show before you got there. The fucker takes up about half the record, not so much filling out side 1 as it did slowly ooze over it, filling in just enough grooves to please the record company. OK, maybe that was harsh. But it is a long stoned song. The title track was great, though, and kinda weird. It was the Traffic tune that people who loved Baby’s On Fire liked. You’d hear the tune a lot on FM for a while, though I haven’t heard it in years. Which is odd because I still listen to Traffic pretty regularly, and still love Steve Winwood’s voice, even if you can’t tell by the attitude above. I wrote most of this some time ago, I think during that nasty heat wave, hence the grumpiness. It happens.

Oh, Rebop Kwaku Baah. Almost as fun to write as it is to say. He cooks on the title cut. Rebop Kwaku Baah. That’s twice.

All the Young Dudes

This was the anthem of all us disaffected teens in the early 70s and we had no idea why, it just was, somehow. We hadn’t a clue what it was actually about, we just figured it was about all us shambling young and clueless dudes and dudettes, and it meant, well, who knows. Whatever. Metaphors were still a little beyond us (it’s one of the last linguistic concepts the brain gets a handle on, metaphors, until just before we reach adulthood and there they are, metaphors, and suddenly Bob Dylan makes sense.) No, we were still at that precious age where everything is literal and things are things and dudes were, well, dudes. Its lyrical structure is pretty complicated for an anthem—they’re usually simple, We Shall Overcome, like that—and it’s got a lot of cool rhymes, and that all night/suicide/twenty five/speed jive/stay alive/twenty five it opens with could’ve come right out of Cole Porter. Bowie had never done better word wise, and never did again, not that we could have known that then, we were 15 and didn’t know anything, though we didn’t know that either. All we really knew was that chorus with all the young dudes singing all the young dudes, and we’d join in, all the young dudes joining all the young dudes singing all the young dudes. It was probably the only feeling of being part of a youth movement that wasn’t some old hippie thing we had in the early 1970’s, though what sort of movement that was we hadn’t a clue. Just us dudes singing about us dudes. It was our anthem. And ya know, it still gets me when I hear it, every single time, and it probably always will. I’m a dude, yeah.

S.H. Draumur

Finally found the S.H. Draumur double CD with all their vinyl on it. That Internet thing again. I had all their vinyl, sold it in one batch to a guy at a garage record sale, who was thrilled, and listened to the earlier version of this double CD I had just gotten, which I immediately lost. That was probably 25 years ago. Now, at last, all the way from Iceland and the last copy they had, I get this. The lovely InstaCart lady (very lovely, in fact) brought it with our Total Wine order, with the white wine for the wife and the apfel schnapps für mich. You got this thing here from Iceland, the InstaCart lady said, lashes aflutter. Hot damn, I said, Thanks. I’d been waiting a while. For some reason customs always gets involved, like it’s actually a little package of that hideous Icelandic dessicated shark. Then they sniff it, see it’s a CD, read the voluminous paperwork you have to add in Iceland to ship anything anywhere not part of the Greater Iceland Empire, which is all in Icelandic, which no one at the U.S. Customs office can read, I’m sure—I mean who can?—so they eventually give up and let it go. A week or so later it’s left on our steps for the lovely Instacart lady to find. There’s a reason for everything. Actually, this CD reissue was released a decade ago but only in Iceland and ever since we sold the rooftop condo in Reykjavik we don’t get over there much. But I got this new double CD now. I actually do. Nice packaging, too, extra live tracks, all the lyrics and a long historical essay, everything in Icelandic. As are the lyrics, every single word of them, right down to those to those groovy weird letters for the voiced and unvoiced TH. (English had those. Don’t ask.) I like to think it’s because Icelanders don’t particularly give two Paul Weller fucks about anyone outside Iceland. Which just makes this even cooler. Anyway, I don’t listen to much rock anymore, I notice, I’m way more into jazz and African and Latin and Brazilian and all kinds of wacky metrically skewed ethnic shit, these things happen, but S.H. Draumur was one of my favorite rock bands ever, and twenty five years later it still is, turns out, so I’m one pleased old punk rock motherfucker, he says, and plays it again.

Epilogue: You can try Bad Taste Ltd, out of Rekyavik, for all your Icelandic music needs, like this double CD, if they have any left). And you adventurous postpunk etc music nuts ought to have plenty of Icelandic musical needs, as it remains as musically creative a place as you’ll find on this crazy little sonic planet we’re on. Bad Taste are a couple great guys whose English is much better than mine with a helluva catalog and I highly recommend them. Google them, as I’m way too lazy to look up the link. Gunni Hjalmarsson—aka Dr, Gunni in a later life—who wrote, sang and bassified in SH Draumur (and in a follow up project Bless) is still around, too. Back in the innocent punk rock pen pal days of the analog 80s we swapped letters and music and to be honest, I got the much better in the swaps, and soon I knew more about Icelandic music than maybe anyone in LA. You’d be amazed at how far you can get as an Icelandic music expert in Los Angeles. This spacious office, the BMW, the secretary with the legs? That’s right, all due to those packages from Gunni. A zillion years later I still have a mess of that stuff too, and certainly all the cassettes. He’s a terrific writer too, and in English, which I hate, as I can’t read Icelandic at all (well, I can pronounce it, and you are all mispronouncing Björk) so of course Gunni translates his own stuff, not that I’m jealous or anything. (Monolingually jealous? Moi?) Maybe he translated the lengthy notes that are tucked into the CD booklet too. And now I can’t think of a clever close to this epilogue. Fuck.

OK, I lied about the rooftop condo in Reykjavik.

Buffy Saint-Marie again

Buffy Sainte-Marie off somewhere at the Bottom Line in 1974.

Though always my favorite of the singer songwriters, it’s funny to see what a challenge she proved to photographers who almost invariably failed to capture her intensity. It’s a shame, really, because in the days before video and online performances, photographs and vinyl were the only way most people ever got to experience a musician. Good photographs could make a legend, to this day we tend to recognize the artists who photographed well. Buffy Sainte-Marie was perhaps a bit beyond what photographers could see then, not that you could blame them, publicity and stereotypes were all about wind blown hippies or Joan Baez, and Buffy was neither. Still, photographer Waring Abbot caught a glimpse of something here on a spring night in New York City in 1974.

Gilles Caron

I love the composition of this photo of Twiggy and the Eiffel Tower by Gilles Caron. He was quite a character, Caron was, with his celebrity and fashion photography gigs alternating with war correspondent gigs covering wars and revolutions on every continent except Australia and points south. He seemed drawn to upheaval and violence like a moth to flame, and his subject matter finally caught up with him outside Phnom Penh in 1970, where the Khmer Rouge waylaid and murdered him on a lonely stretch of Cambodian road. It was he and his motorcycle in the midst of all that mayhem, you can almost feel the testosterone and fearlessness. Alas, the fate of one man is nothing in a revolution, and that particular revolution would kill millions. Perhaps he didn’t realize that the anonymity of a photographer doesn’t really exist outside of a photograph, and that even a photographer capable of something as extraordinary as this shot of Twiggy silhouetted against the Eiffel Tower could be summarily executed for no apparent reason as easily as one of his photo subjects could be. Just another tragedy. That was in 1970, a good year for tragedies. He was thirty. His career fits neatly into the 1960’s, except he never learned how it all came out. A helluva photographer, though, every photo a portrait. It’s an art, I suppose.

John Gilbert

Watched Downstairs last night, from 1932, in which John Gilbert is incredibly convincing as a vile, thieving, conniving lowlife of a chauffeur with no redeeming virtues whatsoever. Weird choice of role for a leading man with a career on the rocks, weirder still that he’d written the story himself and wanted to do it so badly he sold it to MGM for a dollar. Gilbert is ridiculously good in it, his attention to detail verges on fanatical—the character picks his nose and wipes it on his clothes, ferchrissakes—and his voice is fine. He did not have a squeaky voice, despite the legend. He did have a fight with Louis B Mayer, tho’. Combine that with a thirst for drink worthy of John Barrymore—it killed him four years after this film—and you can see where his career went, and the squeaky voice rumors were just post mortem Hollywood viciousness. John Gilbert should have been one of the top leading men in the thirties and forties, as good as any of them, but he drank himself to death first. You really do have to wonder about the mindset of a movie star who goes to such incredible lengths to play an absolutely loathsome character. Oh, and this being the pre-code era, the chauffeur doesn’t even get his comeuppance. He wins.

About all those missing words….

Sorry there’s no more of the great gobs of prose I used to spill out all over these blogs. People have been asking. Alas, epilepsy was really fucking with the long essays, and I finally had to stop. Had to stop working too. Had to stop just about everything. It’s been a couple years now and the synapses have calmed down nicely. They seem to like being bored. Me not so much at first but I’ve adapted. So I write tiny little essays now, scarcely ever longer than a paragraph. Hence all this tinyness where vastness used to be. Little gems, I tell myself. The actual gemage might be debatable, but they’re my blogs. You can think everything you do is art if no one is editing you.

Anyway, thanks for reading and feel free to complain.

Brick

Barbara Shelley

Watching Five Million Years to Earth (aka Quatermass and The Pit) once again. I watched it last night too and while googling up some info on the flick I was saddened to see that Barbara Shelley passed on a month ago. She was just a few weeks shy of her 89th birthday. Though she is best known for her roles in string of Hammer’s quintessential horror films, I love her most as an unflappable scientist in this Hammer science fiction classic, one of my favorite films ever, and probably my very favorite science fiction film. (The original BBC four episode story, with a different cast, is also excellent.) Who knows how many times I’ve seen this movie since it first blew my mind when I was a teen, and it has only gotten better with age. Barbara Shelley was never better—subtle, smart, unflinching and beautiful—than she is here. Rest In Peace.