30 November 2008
As a follow-up to my 'White Album' tribute, I thought I would post a recent news story. The always-timely Vatican have seen fit to forgive John Lennon for Lennon's remark, spoken in interview in 1966, that "the Beatles are more popular than Jesus"--28 years after his death! Man, those Romish cult leaders really have their collective finger on the pulse of stuff. Apparently, according to the Church, he "was dealing with sudden fame" and it all went to his head. Well, that was swell of them to drop the matter then. Except, er...he had been internationally famous for roughly two years by then. Still, if that's what all those pointy-hat guys want to believe... Personally, it doesn't really matter if he was forgiven or not--I mean, who really cared in the first place? Apart from 'that old queen in Rome' and some rubes and sheet-wearing bigots in the American South. Anything that annoys them is quite all right with me.
I suppose it'll be another 30 years before Lennon is forgiven for the Two Virgins LP cover photo (I seem to recall that really stuck in the craw of Al Capp) and the lyrics to Imagine, especially the line "And no religion, too". It's O.K., though, Catholics still can't support Amnesty International and the Church is still against sex education in schools. Nice to know some things don't seem to change.
Has anyone checked out Victoria Jackson's website lately? For those not in the know, Jackson used to be part of the Saturday Night Live cast in the late 80s/early 90s, where she gained some notoriety by being type-cast as 'the ditzy blonde' in the sketches she appeared in. She also appeared in a couple of crap films around the same time (Casual Sex? & 'Weird Al' Yankovic's lame UHF)--and then...well, she all but disappeared. This past year, though, she's been making inflammatory statements at her site about the Obama campaign--everything from "he's a Communist" (with a captial 'c') to "he has traits of the Anti-Christ". I'm not making this stuff up--read it here. She also believes the Bible is "fact" and seems to be a fervent 'end-times' X-tian. She claims that FOX News is the 'only channel that resembles journalism' and shares far-right paranoia, with the twin bugaboos of Socialism and Communism destroying America. Now, I can read her bile with enough Buddhist detachment to last me a couple of paragraphs before I start picturing her computer exploding in her smug face. I'm not even the biggest Obama fan--but sheezus...the Anti-christ? I never thought she was that funny anyway--but if I were a fan of hers, I would really have to try hard to ignore her goofy politics and still like her. See, I can do that with Miles Davis--he seemed to be a notorious race-baiter and was a complete bastard to the women in his life--but damn did he make great music. Someone let me know when Victoria Jackson makes a better record than Bitches Brew and I might be willing to overlook her nutjob-ness and dogma addiction.
As an added bonus, here's a clip of Victoria on The O'Reilly Factor. The intellectual power on that broadcast must've been through the roof!
Thanks to Cheek for the Jackson website link.
18 November 2008
1968 turned out to be a completely different year from the previous one. The "peace, acid & love" vibe of the 1967 counter-culture was drowned in the wake of police crackdowns, continued carnage in Vietnam and 'harder' drugs flooding hippie enclaves. The mood turned uglier with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Students and laborers, despite their mutual suspicions, banded together in France and effectively brought the nation to a standstill for a few weeks. Students in the UK and especially in the U.S. were becoming more radicalized as they watched their peers being sent to an unjust war at the whim of some old men in Washington. The music world responded to these changes in kind.
Bob Dylan weighed in early on with John Wesley Harding, released at the end of December '67. It was his first full-length after his 1966 masterstroke, Blonde On Blonde. The general reaction was bewilderment--as the stripped-down folk and country-ish tunes were almost completely at odds with the expected psychedelic sounds of the time. The Rolling Stones, still getting over their perceived disappointment with their 'acid' LP, Their Satanic Majesties Request, returned with the Jumpin' Jack Flash single in March 1968, a straight-ahead rocker, lean and mean. They would release the Beggars Banquet LP later in the year, which ditched the psychedelic whimsy for blues-and-rock riffing (aside from Factory Girl, a gentler folky track). Even Cream rocked out harder on their double-LP set, Wheels Of Fire, while keeping a few of the trippy touches of it's predecessor, Disraeli Gears. And what was the biggest band in the world up to?
The Fabs were also getting over a disappointment--the poor ratings for their self-produced film, Magical Mystery Tour, shown in black-and-white and then again in colour on the BBC. 1967 had been a momentous and trying year for them. They rode the crest of the hippie wave with their Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP and their All You Need Is Love single, with the television broadcast of the song being one of the first ever worldwide satellite link-ups. In the same few months, though--their manager Brian Epstein died of a drugs overdose and they started to pull in different directions. Paul McCartney appeared to try and step into the gap and lead the band, causing resentment in John Lennon and George Harrison. In August '67, they attended a lecture by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Bangor, Wales--before filming for "Magical Mystery.." started. The Maharishi would have a large impact on the creation of the only double-album they ever recorded, simply titled The Beatles (also known as 'The White Album').
At the start of 1968, they released the jazzy pop single, Lady Madonna--written by McCartney, featuring a sax solo by English jazz legend, Ronnie Scott. The single was backed with The Inner Light, another Harrison Indian-inflected song. It was decided that the band would go to the Maharishi's ashram for training in trancendental meditation. The ashram was located in Rishikesh, India. The Fabs were joined by Donovan and Mike Love, of The Beach Boys...along with actress Mia Farrow and her sister, Prudence. They stayed for a couple of months, well, except Ringo Starr, who left after a couple of weeks. He was quoted as saying the ashram was "like Butlins" and reportedly brought tins of beans with him, in case he didn't like the Indian veggie food. The rest attended meditation sessions, walked around the compound and got the acoustic guitars out for jams with Donovan and Mike. Don apparently showed Lennon and McCartney his finger-picking style and a couple of the tunes that ended up on The White Album show this to be true. The remaining three wrote a lot of songs while in Rishikesh.
After a time, though, rumours started up about the Maharishi's more earthbound desires, particularly for Prudence. She became withdrawn and the others were concerned for her. Lennon wrote a melody for her, called Dear Prudence--which would appear on the completed album. Lennon and McCartney felt they had enough of the ashram and headed back to England while Harrison stayed on for another month. They re-convened to record the Hey Jude single (McCartney's ode to Lennon's son Julian when learning of John's split with his first wife Cynthia), which was backed with Lennon's Revolution, a scathing aside to would-be violent radicals. "Hey Jude" made the chart history books as the longest single to top the charts, clocking in at 7+ minutes, thanks to it's sing-along coda. In late spring 1968, the boys gathered at Harrison's Esher bungalow and recorded some acoustic demos of the various tunes they had written while in India. Soon after that, they returned to Abbey Road Studios to start the proper sessions.
The sessions were frought with tensions and Starr even left the band a couple of times, only to be cajoled back by the others. Yoko Ono, John's new paramour, was also present at the studio, all the time--Lennon insisted upon it. This caused McCartney and Harrison some unease, as they were used to recording with only the four of themselves and the production team. Some of the sessions also had a shambolic nature. George Martin, the Fabs usual producer, was away for the night the band recorded Macca's 'rock-and-roll-cacophony', Helter Skelter. With engineer Geoff Emerick and tape-op Ken Thomas at the board, the session lasted most of a night. McCartney would be screaming into a mic while Harrison ran around the studio with an ashtray, it's contents on fire, held over his head in an ad-hoc impression of Arthur Brown. Lennon would be so exhausted (or stoned) sometimes, that when it came time for his vocals, he would lie on the floor of the studio. The fractious nature of the group was exposed and at times, only two band members would be in the studio. It was almost as if they were acting as a backing group for whomever's song was being worked on. For Lennon (and Yoko's) Stockhausen-influenced tape collage, Revolution No. 9, only Harrison helped out with the many tape loops required for the finished piece. Recording was finally completed in October 1968. They had so many songs that a one-record track list couldn't be agreed-upon, so they decided on a double-album. A plain white sleeve was commissioned, in sharp contrast to "Pepper" and the colourful "Magical Mystery Tour" LP jacket. A poster was included in the initial pressings, along with four large photos of each Fab. A number was also stamped on the lower right hand corner of the front cover, with "The Beatles" embossed a bit above it.
The music itself was the most eclectic that the group ever produced. Forays into faux-30s jazz, proto-hard rock, quasi-folk..even an attempt at honky-tonk (albeit through a Liverpudlian filter), with the Ringo-sung Don't Pass Me By. The individual facets of each band member are far more pronounced. McCartney the tunesmith, with his melodic sensibilities..as in the folky Mother Nature's Son and Blackbird (rumoured to be a 'coded' message of support for the Black Power movement). Harrison the introspective one, with While My Guitar Gently Weeps (featuring his friend Eric Clapton on a nice solo) and Long Long Long. Lennon's acerbic wit on Happiness Is A Warm Gun (a "3-songs-in-one" medley which would inspire the side-long medley on the Abbey Road album and Radiohead's Paranoid Android, nearly 30 years later), The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill (a swipe at alpha-male 'Saxon mother's sons' that he perceived to be the source of most wars) and Sexy Sadie (allegedly written about the Maharishi's foibles). Ringo, ever the droll clown, had "Don't Pass.." and the treacly Goodnight, which closes the second record in the set. For all that, though, it still seemed difficult to completely pin them down. Lennon gets sensitive on "Dear Prudence", featuring that Donovan-picking and on Julia, an ode to his late mother. Macca rocks out on Why Don't We Do It In The Road? and "Helter Skelter". Harrison lets his hair down on Savoy Truffle, another track with Clapton and even written about Eric's sugar jones.
There are some "full band" moments scattered throughout, in case anyone thought the group had completely fragmented. Back In The U.S.S.R., which opens Side 1 of the first LP, is a Chuck Berry-esque rocker which also manages to be a Beach Boys hommage/piss-take. Birthday, a light, fun ditty, also sounds like the four mucked in together to complete it. Revolution No. 1, a slowed-down version of Lennon's B-side, has a 'band feel' to it as well...especially with it's false start. The underpinning blues riff sounds off on an acoustic guitar and then stops. Macca says "Take two" and Lennon responds with "O.K." and the riff starts the tune proper. Then there are the oddities. Wild Honey Pie (covered by The Pixies in the late 80s) sounds like an Appalachian hoedown on Saturn. Harrison's Piggies couches cynical, almost insurrectionary lyrics into a sprightly melody, featuring harpsichord as a lead instrument. And then, of course, "Revolution No. 9"--a tape collage by turns unsettling and remarkable. Whatever you think of it, it was certainly a bold move to include it on the album at all. I suspect it bewildered even those fans who'd stuck with the Fabs through all of the changes in 1966 and '67.
The record set, as with every new Beatles album, received a warm response upon it's release in November 1968. Unfortunately, in 1969, it became forever associated with the murder of Sharon Tate and others by Charles Manson's 'family' of hippie runaway delinquents. Manson was convinced that the Beatles were communicating with him through the music, especially "Helter Skelter", "Piggies" and "Revolution No. 9". He thought a race war was imminent and used the murders to try and foment the war. His plan was to hide out in the Mojave desert until the war was over, then make his way back and take over as supreme leader over the African-Americans, whom he figured would win. The band themselves distanced themselves from the tragedy and those songs weren't performed for a long time by any of the members, even during their solo years. When the 'White Album' was released on CD in 1987, American comedian Sam Kinison had a routine about having faulty speaker wire, because he couldn't hear The Beatles talking to him. He would launch into a tirade, shouting "MANSON...IT WAS JUST A FUCKING ALBUM..YOU WERE ON ACID!" U2 covered "Helter Skelter" on their 1987 tour and Bono would announce, before starting, "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles, we're stealing it back". Harrison did perform "Piggies" again on his 1991 tour and McCartney has recently been performing "Helter Skelter"--as in his Glastonbury set a couple of years ago.
The group were back in the studio in January 1969 for the ill-fated "Get Back" sessions. It was clear by that time that they were moving in separate directions, as foreshadowed during the recording of the 'White Album'. They would rally one final time for the recording of "Abbey Road" in the summer of 1969 and then, in August 1969, they quietly split, though the noisy legal battles would commence soon after. A post-split LP, Let It Be, pieced together from the "Get Back" sessions, was released in 1970, along with an official announcement that the band had broken up.
There are still debates about whether the sprawling double-album could've been whittled down to a very stellar single LP. In the 1995 Anthology TV special, George Martin is shown as saying just that...that he wanted to edit it down to a single record. Macca is shown just after, saying "I never agreed with all that, well...it should've been a single album...it's The Beatles, it's the White Album...shut up." To me, it shows the biggest band in the world willing to go out on a limb, even if it means alienating some of their die-hard audience. Maybe it was out of necessity...perhaps they had to record the songs they did for no other reason than to assert themselves as individuals in this thing beyond their control called The Beatles. It's still one of the best double-albums in the history of popular recorded music, well, to me anyway.
15 November 2008
We set off on Monday morning in torrential rain - it was so bad that on the motorway I couldn't see a thing due to the spray from the lorries. We got there and were in the cottage in 5.5 hours, which isn't bad considering. We stayed in a little cottage in Port Gaverne - 1/4 of a mile down the coast from Port Isaac (as seen in Doc Martin and Saving Grace). Port Gaverne is a tiny little cove filled with holiday cottages and one pub. My family first came to know if in the 70's (I think) when my mothers cousin Gary worked in the pub/hotel. At the time it was owned by an eccentric old Biddie who we think has now died - her apartment was empty and being refurbished. She owned both the hotel/pub and also a set of old fisherman's cottages opposite. We used to take Herbie down there and stay in a cottage called Marigold - right opposite the pub. This time though we stayed in the one called Jasmin as Marigold held too many memories for me.
When we got there we went for a walk in the mud over the headland but soon turned back as it was so wet. We walked up to Port Isaac and strolled round the quaint old streets, looking in some of the shops. There were a few other people about but not many. On the way back we managed to befriend a little cat which we christened Bertie. He followed us for so long I thought he was going to come all the way back with us (he actually turned up one night just outside our cottage !). We went for a drink in the pub that night and both had Doom Bar - a local beer brewed in Rock and named after a sandbank between Rock and Padstow. It's a really good beer but tastes much better from the tap in an authentic Cornish pub, with a roaring fire.
The next day we set off for Rough Tor to scatter Herb's ashes. We got there early and were the only people there - which added to the bleakness. It came back to me why Herb had liked it so much - he wasn't friendly with other dogs and this place was so huge and lonely that the chances of him seeing another dog were slim so he could enjoy his walk without any anxiety. We set off, over the stream at the bottom and then made our way to the left and then up. We got to the top and started looking for a suitable place - finally deciding on the 2nd of the 3 "peaks", mainly due to the fact that it was a very windy day and it was slightly more sheltered. We scattered his ashes, including some dried daffodils we'd picked in April from the little patch over the road (he used to go berserk sniffing them for some reason !) and then carried on with our walk - around the final peak and back down to the car. It was a lovely walk and a very sad moment. I think he's happy there though as it truly was his favourite place.
After we'd eaten our lunch we set off for Polzeath Beach - another of his favourite haunts. The tide was coming in (or going out) so most of the beach was under water but the sea was rough and we had a potter round, fascinated by the waves and movement of the sea. We watched some idiots - I mean Surfers - including one with no wet suit. We left there and had a quick visit to Rock and then back to the cottage before it got dark (I refuse to drive in the dark - especially along those Cornish roads). We went out for dinner that night and ended up in a place called The Crows Nest - it was nice, the food was good. The only other pub in Port Isaac didn't have any vegetarian options but it had a nice Beer brewed by St Austell's called HSD.
The next day we completed our Herb tribute with a trip to Lanhydrock - a National Trust property just outside of Bodmin Moor. It sort of reminds me of a smaller Blenheim Palace, with a hugely impressive house and nice circular walk. We walked Herb's usual route but unfortunately strayed off it into a field for a few minutes. This seemed to anger the field's owner for some reason and she shouted at us to "get out of her field". Pure comedy ! We did, but were still looking for the path in the next field along and she seemed to disaprove of this too, and came up to us still shouting to get out. TPG decided to shout back but I told him to shh and pretend we were lost. When she realised this she reluctantly said she'd show us where the path was - I played dumb (not difficult) and made her take us all the way back to the turning we should have taken. If she'd been politer I wouldn't have done it but screw her !
After Lanhydrock we took a trip to Padstow. I'd never been there before and was very impressed. It's a largish harbour and very touristy, mainly thanks to TV Chef Rick Stein who owns restaurant/cafes/ a Deli/ a hotel/ a fish and chip shop etc etc there. As TV Chef's go I really like Stein - although he cooks a lot of fish dishes I always try to watch him as he's very unassuming and nice. We had a wander round the harbour, took a walk nearly to the beach, bought authentic Cornish Pasties (well, a Cheese & Onion and Chicken and Stuffing) for dinner that night and then visited Stein's Deli. We had a list of stuff for a work colleague and also picked up some Chutney for my parents and some chocolate cookies for ourselves. It wasn't cheap but the quality is good.
The next day - Thursday - we decided to visit The lost gardens of Heligan. It was raining really hard and the drive took 90 minutes ! When we got there the rain didn't show any signs of stopping but we bravely spend 3 hours wandering round, fascinated by it. My favourite bits were the bird hide, the Italian Garden and the Vegetable Garden. After 3 hours we were soaked and freezing so we went to the cafe and had a hot drink - my hands were so cold I wrapped them round the mug and couldn't feel a thing. After we'd warmed up a bit we set off for St Austell - with the main intention of finding the Brewery. We walked round the centre but didn't see it anywhere so left - 0n the way back we saw signs for it though so followed them and found it ! We bought some beer and cider and then set off for the cottage.
That night we ate in the Port Gaverne pub - a Cheddar Ploughmans for me and Fish for TPG. Also more Doom Bar. There were a very annoying couple in that night - the woman was possibly the most irritating person in the world. She obviously wasn't happy with just her Husbands company because she kept leaving her table to go and talk to the Barman and the regulars (who were from London and Manchester !). She tried to drag us into conversation a few times but we didn't get sucked in - instead concentrating on our food and beer. There were a couple of cute dogs in that night - a spaniel called Indie and a black lab called Freddie. We spent most of our time watching him and commenting on how good he was !
Friday we had to leave - unfortunately. We stopped in Tintagel for a bit and walked around the shops and up the the castle. We bought a few cheap souvenirs from a bookshop and then set off for home. The drive home was uneventful - but quicker than the journey there. We got home late yesterday but both wish we were there still. Maybe we'll go back next year with the whole family for Christmas.
09 November 2008
A small post to mention the Halloween episode of The Kaleidophonic Stroboscope is now live (well, it's been live for about a week). I know, the holiday is over--but you can still savour the scary sounds, especially on a rainy and cold day like this. Listen to the episode here. The artwork still isn't loading at MyPodcast, so I've posted it here instead.
Pixie and I are heading to Cornwall on holiday this week. We're staying in Port Isaac and we'll be going to visit Herb's old haunts and scatter his ashes on Bodmin Moor, one of his favourite 'walkie' spots. We've rented a cottage near where Pixie's family used to stay on holiday, so it shall be nostalgic for her and a whole new experince for me. This will be my first visit to the west Cornish coast. I'm taking my hiking boots and plenty of warm clothes.
Be back in a week...see you then!
07 November 2008
Anyone else see Brian Eno on Question Time last night? Pixie and I tuned in for a bit, when suddenly ol' Dimbers fielded a question to the Liberal Democrats' "Youth Advisor"....Eno!
I only watched a bit of the programme, but just enough to see Eno dis Jack Straw over the "dodgy dossier" used to instigate the war with Iraq. How cool was that?
Personally, I think Brian should form his own anarcho-libertarian party..or join The Monster Raving Loonies (the only respectable active political party--aside from the Guns And Dope Party). I'd vote for him. Imagine that...Prime Minister Eno.
You can watch the "Question Time" programme on the BBC iPlayer here (for the next week only - then it's gone).