Saturday, 23 July 2011

the stupid 27 club

With the news today that Amy Winehouse has been found dead in her apartment at the age of 27 from what must have been drink and drugs related it makes me wonder why it is that 27 year olds are so fundamentally stupid. Think about it. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain , Brian Jones, Robert Johnson, Alan Wilson (canned Heat) ,Kristen Paff (Hole). That is a pretty impressive list of people.

The causes are all different but often related to the excess's of wealth and fame achieved at a young age. You do however get the sense that many of them just took too many risks and were so impressed with their own fame and ability that they thought it was always going to be the way it was. Until the time they went too far and that was that. Gone. The bones of their ability to be picked at for decades to come by the families and hangers on that should have done something at the time to have kept them from themselves.

I have no doubt that for the next few weeks we in the UK will get an almost endless stream of memories and anecdotal stories about how Amy was a lost soul and wasn't able to help herself. The fact that it suited her hangers on to keep her name in the headlines and to ensure that their own particular little golden goose was kept in a state where she needed them has meant they have to take some of the responsibility for her death.

She had a great voice. And it is a pity that we will not get anything more of the white girl blues/ jazz voice.

It is interesting that so many of the names in the stupid 27 list were considered to be so very good and above their peers at what they did. I do wonder if it is because of the sense of loss in so far as that it is definite that we will get no more from them, or is the idea of the tortured artist being the unbalanced genius able to provide greater art closer to the point that appeals to us all. I guess by appeals I mean talks about places darker than we care to go to.

This is a picture that has lived with me since I first saw it re-produced in an obituary for Kurt Cobain

It was apparently taken backstage immediately after a performance by Nirvana. The story goes that when asked what was wrong, Kurt tried to explain that he had realised the audience was cheering before they had heard the music. That anything he actually did was irrelevant and it was his fame they cheered. I have no idea of knowing if that story is true or not. It is a powerful image though. In light of him eventually putting the shotgun in his mouth it starts to make sense a tiny little bit. More with him than some of the others I do have a sense of his music being an outlet of what was really going on inside. It actually being too much to bear in the end. When I think about songs like Dumb, On a plain, and in fact the entire set list for the unplugged album. Watch the video some day , it is Kurt playing at his own wake.

The others though? I do not think that Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin were tortured geniuses. I think they both had difficult childhoods that meant that they were messed up. But that meant that they craved the limelight and then the access they had to the various substances that eventually killed them meant they followed the path. There was not a sickness, other than addiction, that drove them. Let's be honest here, Morrision was hardly the world's greatest poet. The lyrics to the songs he wrote are good, sometimes interesting and inventive. in a free form type of way. But genius? No.

Janis had an amazing voice. Truly one of a kind and in that she found an amazing level of fame. I am 'friends' with her on Facebook and she gets a huge amount of comments every time someone posts to that page. She clearly found some sort of escape and sanctuary in her abuse of the drugs of the day. But I would say like Hendrix, she was naturally gifted and went down the addiction route. Not so much to take away from the pain, but more to keep herself amused. A sense of entitlement rather than one of true despair.

Is that fair do you think? There is little doubt that at the time, and for a very long time after Jimi Hendrix was and will be acknowledged as a great guitarist. He was, end of story. If he had been born at another time I have little doubt he would have been part of Opeth or some similarly talented and amazing band who needed a guitarist that could make the instrument do things no one else could. But as with Janis, he just got it wrong one night. Went too far and his body could no longer deal with it in the right way. or the way it had been done before. So it gave up. Different ways, I know that, but neither made it through.

It will be interesting to see how many people suddenly draw similarities between Janis and Amy. it is very easy to see these things when they are pointed out. the fact that one is acknowledged as one of the best of her and subsequent generations, and one sung well on a album will of course be reasonably easily left to one side.

There is also the part of us that feels a little sense of the injustice of it. I mean, how does Nikki Sixx from Motely Crue make it through three near death experiences and Jimi Hendrix doesn't? There seems to be little sense of karmic justice to all of this does there really? Still I guess it is the way it goes.

It is interesting that the myth continues to live on. The myth is that if you sell your soul for fame that the devil would one day take it back. this started with Robert Johnson. I saw a show on him recently. It said that he was a reasonably ordinary singer who used to go on stage at the blues club in the intermissions. He was so bad that no one would pay him. Then he disappeared for a couple of years and came back as one the best Blues guitarists.

Of course songs such as the one there then perpetuated the myth that he had sold his soul to the devil in order to learn how to play. I think maybe more the first Marilyn Manson than actual in league with the devil. However, when he died mysteriously, officially of poisoning, it was claimed that the devil took his soul back.

If that is the case, then I dare say that the people on the list are all enjoying themselves still now. Afterall, hell sounds like a much more fun place reallt doesn't it.

I do think though that it is perhaps the heavily christian deep south of America trying to explain away the things that he sung about in such a way as to continue to hold of the church over the under educated and gullible.

So RIP Amy, I hope that whether it is heaven or hell, the wheel of life or simply the end, that you got what you wanted out of this life and the next perhaps take it a little easier.  . . .

Pictures and words about music

I love watching music documentaries. After watching midgets wrestle they are about my favourite thing. There is something that allows an outsider into the music world. Usually they are some sort of progressive timeline and take you through the evolution of their topic. Other times they explore the topic in detail. However, the best thing about them is that a good one will have interviews with the people who actually make the music and as such you get a far better insight into the process. Not only that but you also get a insight into what they were trying to do and the way they felt about it.

I do not however particularly enjoy watching dvds of concerts. I know some people who love these as much as I love the documentaries, but not I. I find that you can not get the sense of excitement you would have had if you were there, and whilst the performances can be amazing. It is a little like looking at pictures of someone elses amazing holiday.

A great documentary will ask the questions you want to ask to the people you always wanted to ask it to. Because I am a nice kinda guy I thought I would share with you a few of my favourite docos and hope that you do the same. That way I can find them and spend some time appreciating them as well.

The best Documentary I have ever seen on the music genre is , Metal; A head bangers journey. This was put together and shot by a guy, Sam Dunn, who is a metal fan. Now you know what it means to be a metal fan. A lot more than being a fan of indie. He is a hardcore fan but also an anthropologist and so treats the subject in an intelligent and thoughtful way. Time for some music

The issue with the post today is that unless I actually put excerpts of the interviews into the blog then the music and the words will be a little disconnected. So think of it more as reading music, than me trying to prove my point as it is usually. back to the point. Metal A headbangers journey, goes through all aspects of metal. Where it came from, why it looks like it does, it's subject matter, the people in it and the people that support it.  Great interviews with many of the most important people and also fans and the like. I think the key to what makes it so good though is that it is an informative and interesting film even if you are not massively into Metal. After sitting through it, my wife put on some Sabbath.

A documentary I saw for the first time recently is called Punk: Attitude. This is a great documentary in the time line model. It starts with the MC5 and finishes up with Green Day and the like. What makes this one so great is the combination of it being made and produced by Don Letts, who was very much part of the UK scene, and as such enables him to have interviews with every one who is anyone in the scene over the years he covers. From Kramer in the MC5, through The guys in the New york Dolls, Stooges, Sex Pistols, The Clash through Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra, to Thurston Moore etc etc. You get a real sense of what these guys were trying to achieve, how the people earlier in the documentary influenced them. It is just great, particularly if you have even a passing interest in the genre.

I will revisit my post about Punk as a consequence of it. I learnt a lot more about the underlying movies of some of the people who perhaps I did not fully understand previously and may have judged prematurely. Which is the point isn't it? If you watch something and it helps to better inform you then it has been time well spent.

Some more music.

In the same way I was taken by surprise by a documentary. I live in the UK and on cable we are lucky enough to have a couple of arts channels that are devoted to documentaries which are about all types of music. Mainly. Some of them are of no interest to me whatsoever. Things like the life stories of a conductor. Just not my thing before I get angry comments back about how these are great people too. I was looking through the schedule and saw that there was an hour long show called Classic Albums and it was on The Doors first album. I recorded it as I thought it would be something to watch at some time in the future when it was raining and I wasn't trying to put something together for your benefit here.

I did not have that high hopes though. I expected an hour long show about how much of a legend Jim Morrison was and how much he captivated the crowd. I have written before that I am over this. I think a lot of people are to be fair. I think the general perception now is much more that the music is important and whilst he was interesting in that car crash type of way, he was a bit of a dick.

As you have probably realised by now though, it wasn't about this at all. In fact it was a very interesting piece on the making of the album , with the remaining members of the band. Going through many of the songs and how they put them together and what they wanted to achieve with each part. Not only that, it has two of my hero's, Henry Rollins and Perry Farrel talking about how much of an influence it was on them. I kinda get the Janes Addiction influence, but Henry Rollins? Well he explains it. It is particularly interesting hearing Robby Kreiger going through the guitar piece for The End.

What this documentary did was restore my love for The Doors music. Giving me back the ability to listen to it separately from the fawning nature of people and their perspective of the Doors. Something I lost after the movie came out. For an hour long show I could not have asked for anything else than that.

So, what I am after from you is the best music genre documentaries that you have seen, so that I can go and get them and hopefully be entertained and informed for some time.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Canada vs Australia

There is little or no doubt that the two countries most responsible for the most music and the direction it has taken over the last 50 years have been America and Britain. They clearly have dominated and rightly so given some of the amazing music that has enhanced all of our lives.

However, what about the second string? Who belongs in the second class? Well, and I am talking about english language music here. There are really only two contenders. Australia and Canada. If you beg to differ then please answers below. In fact the more I think about it, the less there is any argument what so ever. Yes there will be some that will steadfastly put Scandinavia or the Nordic countries up there. But really? I do not want to belittle any of the music that has come from that region, but it has never been as consistently good as the music from Canada and Australia.

But who is better? Now, I will declare my biases at the beginning of this. I was raised in Australia, I know more about that music than I do about Canadian music. However, my editor and wife is Canadian. So it is a country I have been to many times. I have listened to a lot of the music given this is the digital age. Because with the globalisation of the music we listen to, it doesn't matter where it originates, just as long as you can understand it, at least on a basic level. No deep long diatribes about the meaning of individual songs here.

So let's start at the top. Who are the standard bearers? the flag wavers? Well on the Australian side you have AC DC

Ha take that lumber jacks!!

Now I will admit that I could be very wrong here, I am sure I will be told about this as well, but I think the standard bearers for Canadian music are. .

Ok Joke over.

The mighty Neil young comes from Canada. It is always hard to choose a song from one with such an extensive catalog, but my current favourite song is Like a hurricane, just for that first line. If nothing else

So there we have the two best. There is no doubt that depending on your mood on a particular day, you could make a very good argument for them being better than each other. So let's call it a tie. I think that is the only fair thing to do, again if you would like to comment on one being better than the other then please feel free.

So whom comes next, well next up from Australia we have the immense Midnight Oil. This band actually played a large part in my moving to guitar based music and away from pop when I was in my formative years. My Mother had bought their album, Place without a Postcard, and I played it a lot. A lot. When I think of a song that you should listen to by them I do struggle because again there is a lot, but I think this is a great introduction to them ..

Throughout their years together Midnight oil were a very loud voice in the conservation and the aboriginal rights areas. Recently the lead singer because the minister for the environment in Australia. I say recently but it was 2007. He messed it up royally, with some very strange, with hindsight policies. He is now the minister for youth development. I do not put this here to ridicule him, because I am a great admirer of his. But I think it is very easy to stand on the sidelines and yell, clearly much harder when you are the guy being yelled at.

Anyway, So back to Canada, well there are a surprising number of brilliant bands that come from Canada that you didn't know about it, unless you are Canadian obviously. For example The Band, the Band are Canadian. Who knew? Well I guess them and the rest of Canada, but you know what I mean. This is still my favourite Band song

I love the line 'I was feelin about half past ten'. I got into the band about 8 or so years ago. I read an article about them which said that they taught the world that the new rock and roll had history, roots, and that it was an evolution. Interested I bought the album, Songs from the Big Pink. amazing album. Amazing. Such a great album to put on towards the end of the night, have another scotch and get all nostalgic. . .

So back to Australian music, and one of the most beautiful songs written

Back to Canada

What can we take from those two songs? Well again extremely different, but there to illustrate the depth of the music diversity that comes out of these two great nations. Is one better than the other? Well, I think that you would have to say that the Go betweens song is a perfect piece of pop bitterness. The tea party song is great, very serious and deep, an amazing sound from a three piece it has to be said. I got a bit of a shock when I was looking for the song as the Tea party is now a political movement in America that I really do not any association with, even to show up on my You Tube search history!!!

I am still marking this a s tie. Sorry but you may think that Tea party and The band have more weight (sorry) than Midnight Oil and the Go Betweens, but it is about the song writing and the effect the music has on you. Not how serious it is.

It has to be said though that there is almost no prog that comes out of Australia. Canada has Rush. I am not going to put Tom Sayer in here, because you all know it anyway. Australia hasn't really produced any prog like music over the years. About the closest you get in modern times is perhaps Hunters and Collectors. A great band, sort of prog in so far as they wrote complicated songs. Not really prog though I guess. No prog from Australia ( if I am wrong tell me)

No one however does pub rock better than the Australians though. It was invented there and the best of it is just great. here is a band you would probably not know unless you are Australian

It is almost punk, but not quite. It has a similar time lineage to punk, but a much longer shelf life. Imagine listening to someone playing Aloha Steve and Danno in a sweaty pub full on punters getting into the music.

here is the rub. I think that Australian music is more fun than Canadian music. Even the pop world reflects this. Kylie vs Alanis Morrisette. one is fun, the other is so serious and angst ridden . . I think is somewhat reflective of the music scene in general over the ages. I am not saying that Canadian music can not be fun, or that Australian music can't be serious. But , on the whole the statement stands. Australian music is more fun than Canadian music. I think this is a climate thing. You have to play more fun music when your crowd can walk outside into the sunshine. When it is freezing cold and everyone is very introspective and morose, serious music is the way to go.

So unsurprisingly, Australian music wins, because music is about entertainment at the end of the day. You can be entertained positively or negatively, happy or sad, better to be happy . . . well maybe. . .sometimes better to be challenged . . . my blog . . . Australia wins . . .and my editor is away so no one to point out my biases!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Crazy as bat shit

The Music we listen to speaks to us all in different ways. This is a fantastic thing in many respects because some of the people that make it are not really on the same plain of normality as we like to think we are. Not that there is such a thing as normal really, but we all believe that while we are different and hence special, we operate within the upper and lower boundries of a general social norm.

This is not the case for some of the artists that have inspired us over the years. Some of them are just plain out there. They have gone to places mentally that we we do not dare and in some cases if it wasn't for the fact that they produce artistic content that inspires us they would quite probably be held in facilities to keep them 'safe', or us at any rate.

The most obvious of these is of course Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd, who quite famously and publically lost his mind. There are many stories as to how this might have happened and still more about recent sightings of this chap (although he sadly passed on in 2006). Let's start though with what he produced, here is Interstellar Overdrive

I think that is a great song. Sorry about the video, but it seems EMI don't want the content on youtube. Which seems a little unfair as most of us have at least one Floyd album anyway. If you listen to the music and you know that the writer lost a tenuous grasp on reality then it is very easy to make the link. The music is fractured and has a chaotic feeling to it, which goes some way to providing a sound track to what we think is insanity. It is worth noting though that the other guys in the band didn't lose their grasp on reality. Syd, however - crazy as bat shit. I read a story whereby it was claimed that his housemates put LSD into his coffee or tea every morning and in the end his brain just gave up. Hope those guys sleep well at night.

It seems that Maynard from Tool is also somewhere out there. Not in the same loss of reality that Syd had, but a belief in the things currently thought to exist on the very fringes of reality. I say currently because we don't really know do we. Maybe it isn't rubbish, but he is in fact a prophet and the only holder of the truth. It does remain to be proven however. Much of Tool's music, less A Perfect Circle, deals with the idea of alien contact and the effects it has on the humans. Take this from 10 000 days:

I put the lyrics in because , well, otherwise the full impact isn't there is it? Although I agree it is a terrible recording. Now, you know that I think of Tool as one of the best bands I have heard ( I have heard a fair bit of music even if I say so myself). I really love their music and continually come back to it to ground myself in what is possible musically. But wow. What the fuck is that all about? How do you even come up with those lyrics? I think that perhaps the less sanitised version of how it is possible must be from personal experience. Which is a little disquieting really isn't it? If you told that story, the one told in the song, to people in an ordinary setting, they would bascially put you down as someone in need of help.

Now I am not saying Maynard needs help. What I am saying is that this, and many other Tool songs deal lyrically with what is considered to be on the very fringes of sanity. But despite my hero worship of Tool, even I have to admit that Maynard is as crazy as bat shit. Long may it last if it continues to give us that kind of great music.

As we all know though, insanity takes many guises, some less apparent than others. One person i think we can all agree sits on the thin edge of sanity most of the time is Courtney Love. Her band Hole made some great music. Where so much of Female rock pop is somewhat insipid, have you listened to Paramore or Avril Lavigne?? Courtney at least put herself in the music they produced, take this for example:

But Courtney is just not on the same plane of reality that we like to think we are is she? She displays much of what would be described as paranoid delusion syndromes. Now like most people on the edge of sanity, she is extremely intelligent, so is able to come across as vaguely sane because she is generally smarter than her accusers. But really, the drugs, stolen cars, the fight over money with her daughter, her constant need for media attention... Did you see the music awards where they were interviewing Madonna and Courtney decided to jump on set and try to take over the interview? Crazy as a coconut. . .

No story of the loss of sanity would be complete without a good news story to end with. In Brian Wilson we appear to have one. Well for now at least, it seems Brian has returned to us all here on this plane of reality for a while. But it was very clear thoughout the 70s and much of the 80s that he wasn't with us anymore. Never really a particularly strong mental character, he finally went over the edge during the smile sessions which were the follow up to the master piece that is Pet Sounds. Here is a song that was salvaged from these sessions:

It is one of those things that Beach Boys fans have lamented over the years. That is a great song. The idea that there was more in that head that couldn't come out is a sad loss for us all. Basically Brian, as I said before, somewhat mentally fragile, secumbed to the drugs and alcohol abuse and lost it. He hid in his room for years.. Not literally, but he certainly wasn't publically seen for huge stretches at a time. It wasn't helped by having a guy as a minder who tried to keep him in this place for his own gain.

He came back to us though. He eventaully released the Smile album, but to be honest it had lost some of it's lustre. I think it is because so much of it is about timing. If the album had been released in the late 60s we would probably still be talking about it as a great of all time. It is a bit of an oddity now. I firmly believe that although the songs are there , the genius that would have taken the songs to the next level in the recording studio has left us.

The point of today's post is that sometimes the edge of sanity, whatever edge it may be, allows people to produce something uniquley special. Sometimes it doesn't. Were Hole ever a great band? No not really, but they were interesting for a couple of albums. So not all forms of insanity produce true artistic statements, but the ones that do, we should pay a lot of attention to because they might just be the last things we get from these geniuses.

let's hope not though . . .