Some things I’ve been enjoying of late!

A/N: If you subscribe to this blog via email, you may have seen this post come up before… I accidentally pressed the ‘publish’ button instead of the ‘save draft’ one, and when I ‘trash’-ed and tried to continue working on it from there, it republished it again! Sorry – please ignore them!

Right now, I’ve just started work on a couple of other, more ambitious posts, which I’m hoping will go up at least by the end of January. But in the meantime, I thought I’d muse on some of the pop culture – the TV shows, books, movies, and (of course) music – I’ve been enjoying over the past few months!

Firstly, though, I just want to say a few words about Leonard Cohen and the relentlessness of this year’s obsession with making cool people pass away. I only started to delve into Cohen’s work a few months ago – after watching a documentary made on him in the mid-’60s that my mum and I found in our favourite record shop – but he quickly became one of my favourite artists. Mum and I spent the past couple of months enamoured with his beautifully atmospheric music and poetry, and we’d only planned a couple of days before the news to listen to his newest album, You Want It Darker, together. And so we were both saddened to hear that – so soon after we’d begun to really discover his work – that he’d passed away. He will be sorely missed.

Music

Unsurprisingly, I spend the vast majority of my time reading about music. (I don’t run a food blog, after all!) It’s from this constant reading that I unearth many of the bands I haven’t yet discovered – a method that has lead my to some of my favourite artists in the world – and these past few months have been no exception on this front. Here are some notable examples:

  • Big Star: It’s been a while since I stumbled across my first Big Star song in the middle of an art class in March, but it wasn’t until I acquired a copy of their first two albums on CD that I began to delve fanatically into their discography. The band’s music is so beautiful – filled with jangling guitars and chiming harmonies, with all the twinkling prettiness of a sunny Spring day – and their story – filled with failure and tragedy, until not so long ago when their records found themselves buried deep in the collective consciousnesses of the majority of post-1985 alternative bands – fascinating. I’ve barely stopped listening to their Third album, and founding member Chris Bell’s solo compilation I Am The Cosmos, since, and I think they may be my favourite band along with Sonic Youth right now. (Bowie doesn’t really count as a “band”, does he?)
  • The Smiths: I was entirely unable to see the appeal of The Smiths – sans Johnny Marr’s guitar skills, which I’ve always appreciated – up until about a month ago. This change-in-heart was the culmination of two events: the first one involving me reading an article about Morrissey’s musical and literary influences and thus realising that I liked about 9/10ths of the artists and authors he mentioned, and the second one being me listening to ‘How Soon Is Now?’ with headphones and then thinking it was one of the greatest things I’d ever heard. I’ve since discovered that The Smiths were every bit as musically and melodically beautiful as Marr’s guitar skills had previously suggested to me, and that Morrissey’s voice and lyrics are not actually as annoying as I had found them before, but are instead rather interesting and funny. The Queen Is Dead has been my album-of-choice while drawing and painting for the past month, now! (I still love the Cure though. I can’t choose between the two!)
  • Lydia Lunch: I’ve found Lydia Lunch rather fascinating for a little while, now – her almost gothic aesthetic, her “I could care less” attitude, her involvement in the “no wave” movement (one which I find just as fascinating as well). I’ve been listening to her album, Queen of Siam, on constant repeat for a few months, and I find her music just as fascinating as I do her image. It’s so cool! It has all the arty, underground rebelliousness of the New York punk movement that preceded her no wave – but amplified, and with all the experimental spirit and dark mysteriousness that, say, the Ramones (as much as I adore them!) lacked. Plus, she worked with Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard – who are kind of national treasures here in Australia – so she gets extra points for that too. She’s so cool – go look her up now, and be inspired!
  • Blondie: I think I may have written Blondie off as a disco band in the past, which may explain why I didn’t delve into their catalogue until a few months ago. However, I haven’t let this late start stop me in developing a fanatic obsession with their music and their image. There is something infinitely fascinating about them – the way they added pop sensibilities and glamour to the CBGB scene and yet retained all the punk attitude of their contemporaries is the epitome of cool. Parallel Lines must be one of the most perfect albums of all time because of this – it’s sleek and poppy, but still alternative-ly self-assured and outspoken. And their image deserves kudos too – there is kind of a streetwise glamour to it, dirty and brassy yet beautiful and glitzy, which is my kinda thing. Plus, Debbie Harry is also a major role model of mine both stylistically and as a female musician.

TV: Twin Peaks

It took me four months to watch every episode – Fire Walk With Me included – of Twin Peaks. I started it knowing vaguely of its “cool ” status, of how it involved cherry pie and saddle shoes and some girl being murdered and “wrapped in plastic”, and of how David Lynch was involved in it and how he had also directed Mullholand Drive and of how (as much as I enjoyed it) confusing that was and how I wondered if it would be like that as well. But by the time I finished, I was completely and totally enamoured by it. It’s been well over a month since I watched the final episode, but I miss its presence in my weekends more than I’ve ever missed a TV show before… Perhaps the reason for this is of how utterly fascinating and enthralling the show’s narrative is. Exploring the devastating fallout after the murder of seemingly-flawless homecoming queen Laura Palmer, the way that its creators (Lynch and Mark Frost) explore the duality of Twin Peaks’ quaint small-town outer, and the greed, lies and pure evil that haunt it, is edge-of-your-seat thrilling. And many of its characters – some that you are destined to adore like no other from their first scene, others that you endlessly loathe and yet find compelling as a consequence – must be among the most well-developed and enthralling (and well-dressed! Case in point: Audrey Horne) in all of TV history. Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack for the show is perfect, both for mirroring the show’s many atmospheres and as music in itself, too. It is simultaneously the funniest, saddest, most beautiful, most frightening – and undeniably among the best – thing I’ve ever watched. I cannot even tell you how excited I am to see how everything will pan out in the new Season 3 set for release next year!

ggs

And a quick word on the other TV show set in quirky, small-town America where all the main characters have coffee addictions – Gilmore Girls! Its special new season finally came out the other week, and while I won’t be able to watch it for a while as I don’t have Netflix (no spoilers please, then!!), my obsession with the original series – I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve watched it – has ensured that it’ll more than likely be well worth the wait! I can’t express how glad I am to welcome some of my favourite fictional characters ever back (though did they ever leave?) into my world, as demonstrated by my rather melodramatically excited reaction to the trailer. I can’t wait to see what they’ve all been up to over the past nine years – but I especially hope that Jess and Lane are still as perennially cool as when we last saw them, and that the former is as great an author as his last appearances in the original series suggested he was destined to be (team Jess! team Jess!), and Lane is back playing in a band…

Book: Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Joan Didion)

To quote an essay I penned on the book for my English class:

There are some books which are destined to entirely engross and change the course of your life. These books are perhaps the most beautiful, the most eloquent, the most thoughtful thing you’ve ever laid your eyes across, and you know – almost as immediately as you dive into the first chapter – that it will force you to spend the rest of your life rereading it on endless loop and quoting its every word to everyone you meet. I have been lucky enough to have been blessed with a couple of books of this ilk within my life. Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem is one of these. Perhaps it is the greatest of them all.”

Right now, I’m convinced that Slouching Towards Bethlehem – Joan Didion’s first non-fiction anthology, published in 1968 – is the greatest book I’ve ever read, and perhaps one of the greatest ever published. To me, it is almost perfect – Didion’s writing style is the most eloquent thing I’ve ever read, filled with adjectives and infinite wisdom and mystery alike; she writes of the fractured, deceivingly glamorous American “cool” that I have long been fascinated by, of a contrasting collection of figures and characters to endlessly intrigue, and of all the things both internal and external that she has come across in her personal life to which many a reader will scream “Yes! I relate!” over and over to their bedroom walls; it is also unapologetically feminine, something I hadn’t really come across in a book before and a quality that I – as a young woman – find beautiful. I’ve never been so enthralled by a piece of literature before.

Movie: Heathers 

Here are three of the many reasons why Heathers is my favourite movie, second only to The Man Who Fell To Earth:

  • It’s one of the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. The script has some of the wittiest, fast-paced one liners ever written – laced with the most ridiculous black comedy, and clever enough that they never insult the audience’s intelligence – and its merciless satire towards almost everything the world held (and holds) dear is often so cruel it’s hilarious. I don’t think anything’s made me laugh so hard, ever. Here is a good list of only a few of the script’s highlights! Plus, the plot is so twisted and kind of comically disturbing that’s it’s funny.
  • It stars Winona Ryder. ‘Nuff said. (This is coming from someone who, for a few months, watched almost exclusively movies featuring her. She is the best.)
  • And how real it is. For all of its hilarity – and its disturbing plot – Heathers is actually one of the most brutally accurate portrayals of high school that I’ve ever seen in the media. Never once does the movie romanticise or censor it – instead, it shows it exactly like it is, and the movie is all the more intelligent, confrontingly authentic and powerful for it. A reason related to this that I feel deserves a special mention of how ruthlessly disparagingly it displays the concept of high school social ladders, something that must’ve been pretty brave for a world where an originally-quirky Molly Ringwald ends up with the preppy rich kid and an even more quirky Ally Sheedy ends up being transformed into a total it-girl! The very ending – the bit where Veronica walks through the corridor (without giving spoilers away!) – is the absolute best. It’s both great humour and social commentary!

As with pretty much everything else mentioned in this post, I could talk about my immense love of Heathers for years, but let’s just leave it at a paraphrased quote from the movie itself: “It’s beautiful.” (You can deduct whether this is sarcastic or not yourself!)

And so that’s what I’ve been into over the past few months! What about you?

And just before I sign off, I thought I’d mention that today is the anniversary of John Lennon’s death – hope you’re resting well, and thinking of you!

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Pictures Of You…

 

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The cover of Horses is a good example of truly great rock photography (taken by Robert Mapplethorpe)

Let’s face it: it is rare to become a fan of a band simply because the music is pretty good. While, of course, the music is a massive catalyst in such a decision, we become invested in our favourite artists for a myriad of reasons – and often, the visual chops of said artist is one of these. Think about it – it is difficult to picture the early Beatles without their Pierre Cardin-designed collarless suits, glam-era David Bowie without glittery, flamboyant catsuits and bright-red platform boots, The Sex Pistols without their Vivienne Westwood designed garb, The Cure’s Robert Smith without his teased hair and copious amounts of eyeliner… But of course, it’s a little difficult to be fascinated by a band’s visual presentation without seeing them first. And unless you’ve been lucky enough to see one of the above in real life, it is at this point that the world of rock photography enters the picture. (Pun intended.)

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Joe Strummer (taken by Pennie Smith)

When I mention ‘rock photography’, I do not mean the kind that consists of the unimaginative awkwardness equal to that of your Grade 5 school photo. I mean the kind that appears to effortlessly capture the spirit of what music is all about – think the cover of Patti Smith’s Horses, the freezeframe of Joe Strummer about to smash his guitar that eventually became the cover of London Calling, that photoshoot of Bowie and his lightning bolt makeup…  So today, I’m going to name and showcase a few of my favourite rock photographers – the masters of capturing the spirit of rock’n’roll – and I’ll say a few words about them, too. Though, as they always say, a picture is worth a thousand words…

Mick Rock

Most famous for photographing: David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Syd Barrett

Contrary to what regular readers may assume, I didn’t discover Mick Rock’s photography via his extensive Bowie work, but through his photoshoot for the cover of Syd Barrett’s debut solo album, The Madcap Laughs. There is something so mysterious and magical about these photos – Syd (wearing smudged kohl and a pair of old velvet flares) sits among his hazy and delightfully cluttered flat, somehow effortlessly capturing the spirit of his work.

But it was his Bowie shots that made him my all-time favourite photographer. The pictures he took of Bowie throughout the early ’70s are glittery, glamorous insights into the heady worlds of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Each shot manages to translate the theatricality, the otherwordliness, the arty intellectuality, the freakish beauty of his work into what are (in my opinion) some of the greatest photos of all time. Of course, Bowie (well aware of the value of utilising both sound and vision) was photographed many times by countless photographers – but very few others managed to instinctively get what he was all about and freeze it within a few frames of film.

But then – then – I discovered that he took pretty much every famous picture of every iconic glam artist, too! His shots of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno – alongside the Bowie ones – take the dangerously dark glamour of the movement and turn it into something we can still find infinitely fascinating and a little rebellious today. And apart from this, he also took a myriad of other incredible pictures of every other artist of the time you can think of – Queen, The Stones, Blondie, The Ramones, The Runaways, The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux… No wonder he is referred to as “the man who shot the ’70s”!

http://www.mickrock.com/

Bob Gruen

Most famous for photographing: New York punk, John & Yoko – but also every other artist you can think of

Even if you don’t know who Bob Gruen is, you most certainly know his work – he was the guy who not only shot that famous image of John Lennon wearing his ‘New York City’ shirt, but who actually gave John said shirt in the first place! Gruen shot almost every other iconic artist of the era as well, seemingly turning up at every show that passed through New York (where he is from). Among his other famous shots include a “multiple image” of Tina Turner and a picture of Sid Vicious with hot dog mustard all over his face, but he’s also photographed everyone from Led Zeppelin to KISS to Dylan to Green Day to the Beastie Boys to Sly Stone to Elvis Costello to [insert first artist off the top of your head here]…

Asides from this, Gruen was a regular at New York’s most iconic venues, CBGB and Max’s Kansas City – so consequently, he also shot a who’s-who of New York underground music throughout the ’70s and ’80s! He photographed native artists like the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Devo, Plasmatics, Television and Blondie – on top of non-natives, like Nina Hagen, the Pistols and The Clash – performing to their equally-fascinating audiences, juxtaposing their fashions and reactions alongside the artists themselves. In a way, Gruen is to punk what Rock is to glam – he effortlessly captures the sweaty, intimate passion that defined much of the New York scene in a way that few others have mastered. But everything he’s shot has this too. His images never fail to remind you what rock’n’roll is all about…

http://www.bobgruen.com/

David Bailey

Most famous for photographing: The Stones, Lennon & McCartney

It’s probably kind of a stretch to refer to David Bailey as a “rock photographer” when most of his legacy stems around his relationship with models such as Jean Shrimpton and the like. But perhaps it is his background as a fashion photographer that makes his pictures of a few of the biggest stars of ’60s rock so interesting and great.

My favourite of his many photoshoots is the one he did with John Lennon and Paul McCartney at the beginning of 1965. The pair are photographed in the richest tones black-and-white film can produce against a starkly cold, white background – and though the photos are obviously staged, there is a candidness to the pictures, something that seems to transcend whatever a normal photo can capture. But perhaps Bailey was always more famous for picturing The Stones; asides from shooting Mick Jagger a number of times, he also took many of the band’s album covers, including their self-titled sophomore effort, US release The Rolling Stones, Now! and most famously Aftermath. Other musicians he’s shot include Marianne Faithful and Alice Cooper.

http://www.visualartists.com/artist/davidbailey/

Janette Beckman

Most famous for photographing: British punk and new wave

While Bob Gruen was capturing New York punk, Janette Beckman was busy photographing the various circles among the British musical underground at the same time. Like him, she managed to shoot a who’s-who of her scene, her work encompassing artists like Siouxsie Sioux (the subject of her first photoshoot), Public Image Ltd, The Jam, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Undertones – even The Who! She also captured a number of American artists who passed through town, too, such as Lydia Lunch, The Cramps and Debbie Harry. Beckman also shot a number of images of young people in Britain at the time, illustrating the assorted tribes – punk, mod, ska, and so on – that found themselves scattered around the country at the time, and later went on to shoot a bunch of hip hop groups in the ’80s.

In contrast to Gruen and Rock, her images rarely show her subjects performing onstage – instead opting for staged shoots and backstage candids – but this doesn’t stop her from capturing the spirit and ethos of the movements around her. Her shots capture the passion and philosophies of the artists in fascinatingly inventive ways – the way she captures the feeling of the music is perhaps only precedented by Mick Rock. Her work is quirky and endlessly interesting, an incredible document of much of the greatest music of the time.

http://janettebeckman.com/

Brad Elterman

Most famous for photographing: candid shots of a who’s-who of ’70s rock’n’roll

Unlike the other photographers in this list, Brad Elterman did not become an official photographer until a few years into his career. This is illustrated by my favourite story about him – of how, in 1976, he was denied a photopass into Bowie’s recording studio during the making of Station to Station, so instead opted to wait outside the studio and ambush Bowie and his crew as they left that night. Despite this, though, he still managed to photograph a heap of major faces in ’70s rock’n’roll, and in a way that many of his official counterparts would be incapable of.

Elterman’s shots are candid and compelling in a way that more professional photoshoots are not. He so easily shows the emotions and lives of his subjects – his pictures are relaxed and fun, and they capture a certain realism about the whole thing. He’s photographed everyone from Joan Jett to Bowie, Dylan to John and Yoko, Michael Jackson to Joni Mitchell, and there is just something so special about each! There is no-one who has shot the rock’n’roll world with his unbelievably unique eye before or since, and it is this that makes his work so great…

http://www.bradelterman.com/

And so, who are your favourite rock photographers? What are your favourite pictures of rock music? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

Ziggy played guitar…

EDIT – 14/1/2016: This post will forever be rendered horribly ironic, for just over a week after its publication, David Bowie was dead. I thought a lot about what I’d do with it – whether I’d delete it, change the tense – but I’ve decided I’ll leave it as is, to show how much I loved his work before this tragedy. Rest in the greatest of peaces, Starman – I have always admired and loved your art like little else, and I always will, too.

(credit: Brian Duffy)

(credit: Brian Duffy)

Between last August and October, I visited the ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition (recently in Melbourne) twice. Curated with unlimited access to Bowie’s archives, the exhibition was truly amazing. Featuring everything from handwritten lyric drafts, to a huge number of his famous costumes, to the guitar he recorded ‘Space Oddity’ on, the exhibition renewed my love for a near-original protagonist in my fixation with rock music.

Bowie first entered my consciousness nearly three years ago. At the beginning of 2013, a friend introduced me to The Beatles, a discovery that changed almost every aspect of my life. However, as my love of their music grew into an deep passion that is still strong, she began to get tired and moved onto other artists who she also introduced me to. One of these was David Bowie. In the September of 2013, we briefly formed a duo together, and she had started to learn ‘Space Oddity’ on ukulele. She taught me the lyrics, and told me of him. But at the time, I felt that by listening to other artists, I would be betraying my love of The Beatles. He soon faded from my interest.

Bowie reappeared in my life at the end of 2013. One night, a recent documentary named David Bowie: Five Years in the Making of an Icon was screened on TV, and my parents encouraged me to watch it with them. It was through this that I learnt of the worlds of Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke; of Hunky Dory and “Heroes”. I was especially pleased to hear about John Lennon’s songwriting credit on ‘Fame’, though it would be a year before I listened to the song. It wouldn’t be until I began using iTunes Radio in September 2014, however, that I truly became a Bowie fan. Songs such as ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ would frequently play, and I soon grew to love them. It’s been that way ever since.

There is something fascinating about Bowie. Something that allows his work to remain almost as radical and dangerously thrilling as when it was first released. Something that allows him to be an omnipresent component of pop culture, yet remain an icon of the underground. Something that allows him to be among the few “classic rock” artists that makes even the current-day listener feel rebellious and ‘different’, in a time where rock’n’roll has been largely accepted by the establishment. Something which makes his mastery of ‘sound and vision’ among the greatest rock legends of all time. This “something” – his genius – is what I aim to explore today.


Part 1: Vision.

Unlike many musicians, Bowie’s work is not solely musical. Among the great things about it is that he understood the importance of visual mediums, too – like film, fashion and photography. It is this that makes consuming his work a fascinating, multi-faceted experience, and is part of what establishes him as a true artist.

Oh! You Pretty Things

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Asides from the music, Bowie’s image was integral in making me a fan of his work. Even more than 40 years after the “death” of Ziggy Stardust, there is still little that looks as transfixing or as outlandishly unique as Bowie did in the early ’70s. Dressing in flamboyant bodysuits and shining platform shoes, cutting his newly-bright-red hair into the famous “Ziggy” cut and applying eye-catching make-up (normally synonymous with femininity), the brand of fearlessly-decadent androgyny that Bowie created with the costumes from the Ziggy & Aladdin Sane periods is so unconventional that it cannot be defined by “male” or “female”, or even by the regular expectations of humans in general. There isn’t much in pop culture today that is as unafraid to push gender (and general) expectations – or looks as plain weird – as Bowie during that time, ensuring that his then-image remains almost as shocking and revolutionary now.

mod david bowiespace oddity hunky dory sesh

Of course, Bowie’s glam costumes are far from his only iconic fashion statement. Almost each era of his career can be associated with various outfits – his mod fashions of the mid-’60s; his hippy-inspired look – accompanied with permed hair – of Space Oddity; the long hair and dresses (and, later, frilly shirts and high-waisted trousers) of The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory; the stylish, minimalist suits of the Thin White Duke and The Man Who Fell To Earth‘s Thomas Jerome Newton; the leather jackets and coiffured hair of the Berlin Triptych; the silvery Pierrot costume of Scary Monsters…and Super Creeps; the distressed frock coats of Earthling. Working closely with talented designers (Kansai Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen), Bowie merged sound with vision (pun intended!), using fashion and makeup to complement and enhance whatever themes, personas and styles he had been toying with at the time. It is his relationship with style that adds a new level to his work, helping give it its glamorous and idiosyncratic edge.

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Hooked to the silver screen

Another visual medium that Bowie has also made great use of is film; this is appropriate, as he has really always been an actor. He studied mime in the earliest days of his career, and of course, his music (though often autobiographical, as well) is played from the perspective of whichever of his myriad of personas he is portraying at the time. So it is unsurprising that Bowie lends himself well to silver-screen acting, too.

the man who fell to earth 1

I’ve only seen a few Bowie films, so I’ll focus on my current favourite: The Man Who Fell To Earth. Following the story of Thomas Jerome Newton (an alien who has come to Earth, attempting to collect water for his dying planet), the film follows his painful downfall; over the film, Newton becomes increasingly corrupted by human vices and is jailed by the government whom he wrongly trusted, ending with him – spoiler alert – eternally stuck in the world he has been forced to accustom to, depressed and an alcoholic. Bowie’s feature-film debut, the film is bleak and heartbreakingly sad throughout, and almost confusingly ambiguous in parts, leading to its divisive status. However, I happen to love it.

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In my opinion, TMWFTE is a spine-chillingly beautiful film, and this is partly due to Bowie’s incredible performance: the Newton he portrays is always on edge of “human-ness”, though never progresses past this point; too fascinated by human phenomena, too aloof, too strange to entirely conform. Newton feels astonishingly real throughout, and perhaps this is because he is a character that Bowie had, for all intents and purposes, played before; much like Newton, Ziggy Stardust falls to Earth with a mission, and winds up failing, his story also ending in symbolic death. “Otherness” is seemingly a recurring theme of Bowie’s personas. (However, they differ and change often enough to ensure that he remains one of the most mysterious musicians around – the enigmatic and unpredictable nature of his work adding to the experience that is consuming his art. I doubt he would be held in the esteem he is if he was still strutting around a stage in multi-coloured leotards singing glam songs, for one…)

It should also be mentioned that the film owes much of its beauty to its visuals, too – I would write about this, but I feel these stills do a much better job than words.

man who fell to earth final scene

TMTWFTE is thematically as relevant today as it was in ’76. The wall of TV screens that Newton becomes addicted to foretell the arrival of the Internet & smart-devices, and the societal reactions that followed; perhaps Newton is really a human, whose differences have ostracised him from society, making the film powerful commentary on the way we treat what we don’t understand; it provokes questions about what we’d do if we ever discover alien life. It is a beautiful film, and I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t already.

Like the video films we saw

However, Bowie’s acting talents are just as evident within his music clips and concert footage. He acts whatever part – a persona, himself? – he may be playing at the time with charisma, beauty and the same feeling of “otherness” that recurs throughout his work, making the visuals almost as affecting as the music they support. It is with these clips that his merging of sound and vision is at its peak.


Part 2: Sound.

It is no secret that David Bowie’s music is special. But as I listened to his albums while writing this post, I thought a lot about just how special it is. While his visuals are incredible and groundbreaking in their own right, his music is probably his greatest art. There is little in this world that is as magical and exciting as his best records.

Words of truthful vengeance

ziggy lyrics

I’ve felt – for a very long time – that Bowie is an incredibly underrated lyricist. Take, for example, this verse from ‘Quicksand’:

I’m the twisted name on Garbo’s eyes /
Living proof of Churchill’s lies /
I’m destiny /
I’m torn between the light and dark /
Where others see their targets.
Divine symmetry /
Should I kiss the viper’s fang /
Or herald loud the death of Man?
I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought /
And I ain’t got the power anymore.

Or these lines from ‘We Are The Dead’:

But now we’re today’s scrambled creatures, locked in tomorrow’s double feature /
Heaven’s on the pillow, its silence competes with hell /
It’s a twenty-four hour service, guaranteed to make you tell.

Or ‘”Heroes”‘, simple yet beautiful:

I can remember /
Standing, by the wall.
And the guns shot above our heads /
And we kissed /
As though nothing could fall.
And the shame was on the other side /
Oh, we can beat them, for ever and ever /
Then we could be heroes /
Just for one day.

These lines from ‘Changes’ (or any from Hunky Dory, really):

I watch the ripples change their size /
But never leave the stream of warm impermanence.
And so the days float through my eyes /
But still the days seem the same.
And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds /
Are immune to your consultations /
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.

The final verse of ‘Ziggy Stardust’, illustrating the consequences of fame and arrogance:

Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind /
Like a leper messiah.
When the kids had killed the man /
I had to break up the band.

Ziggy played guitar.

Bowie’s lyrics are a huge part of what makes his songs great. Often, they are pure poetry. He writes with a rarely-found intelligence and eloquence; of fascinatingly thought-provoking subjects. His words are abstract, yet full of meaning; intellectual and metaphorical, yet concise; bleakly realist, yet weirdly uplifting; and for a man notoriously ‘non-political’ in public, the social and governmental commentary he writes is bitingly accurate. His lyrics are surprisingly relatable, too; while rockstars from Mars don’t exactly exist in real life, the themes – love, rebellion, our changing society, general commentary on humanity – that he alludes to are ones that most listeners will easily identify with. There are few artists that write as well as he does, and it’s a pity that he doesn’t receive the accolades he deserves.

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies…

I could discuss the technical merits of the music that Bowie and his bands created. But why? Intervals and chord progressions aren’t usually the reason that a fan falls in love with an artist’s music. Take ‘”Heroes”‘; technically, it’s a simple song, consisting of only a few chords and a basic melody – but when layers of intricate instrumentation and its incredible passion and emotion is added, the song becomes among the most moving and poignant ever written.

It was four songs that drew me to Bowie’s work; ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars?’, ‘Starman’ and (the aforementioned) ‘”Heroes”‘. Though, in hindsight, all of these songs are actually quite bleak, there is a beauty to them that makes them so irresistible. They are filled with a catchy, passionate ecstasy that forces you – the listener – to smile and laugh and sing along at the top of your lungs, yet are filled with an intense emotion that has the ability to draw you to tears. They are filled with an infectious, affecting excitement that draws you in and rarely lets go. It’s magical.

This ‘magic’ is found throughout most of Bowie’s work, and this was something I quickly discovered as I devoured his albums and songs. ‘The Width of a Circle’ is hypnotic in its heaviness and relent; ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ is catchy and fun on first inspection, yet darkly thought-provoking on second; ‘Suffragette City’ is edgy and thrilling, enough to make you want to dye your hair Ziggy-red and invest in a sparkly jumpsuit; ‘Rock’N’Roll Suicide’ is overflowing with emotion and sadness, yet its inclusiveness (“You’re not alone!”; “Gimme your hands!”) makes you feel as if you are a member of the coolest club in the universe; ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ is lush and theatrical, yet always glamorous – never camp; even his cover of The Stones’ ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ is filled with a tightly-wound fieriness, making it as good as the original.

Once I’d listened to his early albums, I progressed to his later work, which was easily as affecting and overwhelming as its predecessors. The tense, apocalyptic build up of Diamond Dogs medley ‘Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)’ is spine-chilling in its menacing impressiveness; ‘Fame’ is irresistibly funky, making it impossible to keep your feet still (plus, John Lennon!); ‘Station to Station’ is freaky and erratic, its next move unpredictable, exploring countless styles within its 10 minutes; tracks like ‘Sound and Vision’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ are spellbinding in their synthy beauty, distracting you from their bleakness; and his latest work – The Next Day and the Blackstar singles – is still experimental, well-crafted and fresh, easily a match for the current music it is now compared against.

Bowie’s music is undeniably amazing – still as innovative, irresistible and weird as when it was first released. He sings and plays with incredible passion and emotion, making it feel more meaningful, beautiful and real than it could’ve been without – because in the end, it is passion that makes great rock’n’roll; it’s arty and intellectual, yet not painfully pretentious; it’s thrilling, fascinating, radical and stunning; it’s art. It is great enough that it still sends shivers down my spine, even after dozens of listens. The greatness of his music has affected so many people so much. And that is a beyond-incredible legacy to own.


More than 50 years after the release of his debut single, Bowie remains as relevant and active as ever. His newest album, Blackstar, is set for release in a week (on his 69th birthday), and has been hailed by critics as among his greatest work yet; his musical, Lazarus, is being shown to consistently sold-out audiences in New York; he continues to serve as an icon for many current teenagers. He remains as mysterious as ever, too; it is now almost impossible to predict what will come next, and the few media announcements he gives are never quite certain. Nothing is ever quite sure in his world, except for maybe one thing. He is among pop culture’s greatest heroes. (And not just for one day, either.)

blackstar

On The Who and the rock opera

image

Last Sunday – the 23rd of August – would have been Keith Moon’s 69th birthday. Despite only living to the age of 32, Keith was definitely one of (if not the) the most talented drummers ever. His melodic and distinctive technique fit alongside both The Who’s heavy, “maximalist” style and his deserved reputation as one of rock’s most iconic madmen perfectly. Happy birthday, Keith!

The Who are one of my very favourite bands. Although I’ve only been a fan since December 2014, the band’s unique, brash brand of rock (highlighted by the virtuosic ability of each member on their respective instruments) has fascinated me ever since. But there is one aspect of the band that particularly interests me: their pioneering of the “rock opera”. The Who were among the first to record an album linked together by a common narrative. And most of their better-known albums fit under the category, or at least began life under it. So today, I thought I’d write about The Who’s history with the art of the rock opera.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

The Who’s “relationship” with the rock opera began as early as 1966, with their single ‘I’m A Boy’.

‘I’m A Boy’ was originally a part of a narrative concept created by Pete Townshend, named QuadsQuads was set in an alternative future where expecting parents could choose the sex of their children. In the case of the protagonist family, the parents choose four girls. However, there is a mistake, and one of the four girls turns out to be a boy! Consequently, the parents refuse to accept the fact that their child is a boy, and he is forced to dress and act like his sisters.

The idea for Quads was soon abandoned, but ‘I’m A Boy’ was salvaged. Musically, the tune centres around the ‘power pop’ genre which The Who also pioneered until 1969, and was released on the 26th of August, 1966. It reached number 2 in the UK, yet failed to chart in the US.

Pete would create another prototype rock opera in 1966, which was featured during the last nine minutes of the band’s sophomore album, A Quick One, released that December: ‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’. The song has since been hailed as one of The Who’s most classic and innovative cuts, and it is one of the band’s first in which Pete’s songwriting genius is in full spotlight.

With the deadline for A Quick One fast approaching, The Who did not have enough material for the album. Pete, trying to find extra tracks to record, went through a bunch of songs he had written but not used for the band, and played these to then-manager Kit Lambert. One of these songs was named ‘Gratis Amatis’, supposedly consisting of only the title repeated constantly in high-pitched voices over a guitar. Whilst none of the songs were deemed good enough for release, Lambert jokingly referred to ‘Gratis’ as a “rock opera”, unintentionally inspiring Pete. Pasting together hastily-scribbled lyrics (about a girl whose lover has disappeared and proceeds to have an affair with an engine driver) and six “movements” in a mere few days, The Who soon recorded their first stab at a concept they would master in later years…

Though the lyrics of ‘A Quick One…’ weren’t thought much of when they were originally written, Pete has said in recent years that they came from a dark place in his subconscious. In his 2012 autobiography, Who I Am, he writes that the words allude to the time he spent with his bizarre grandmother who abused him as a small child. Consequently, he finds it difficult to play live and it was only reintroduced into the band’s live repertoire in 2014, for the first time since 1970.

However, there are a few live versions of the song circulating that are arguably as good as the studio version. The tune was part of the band’s set list of their famous Live At Leeds concert. However, my favourite live version of the song is the one originating from the 1968 Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. It is often speculated that the film’s (which wasn’t officially released until 1996) unreleased status was due to The Stones’ opinion that The Who upstaged them!

The Who would continue to create prototype “rock operas”. The band’s third album, The Who Sell Out, was a concept album about the advertising which was played alongside the music on pirate radio stations. The front and back covers depicted the band members comically advertising different products: Pete applied an oversized tube of Odorono deodorant, Roger Daltrey sat in a tub of frozen baked beans, Keith (too) applied medicated pimple cream and John Entwistle hugged a bikini-clad woman and a teddy bear, advertising a fake bodybuilding course. Between the actual songs, advertising jingles written by the band for the products featured on the packaging were included.

(via medium.com)

A poster showing ‘The Who Sell Out’s packaging. (via medium.com)

But it wasn’t until 1968 that The Who would start to perfect the art of the rock opera, and consequently release what would become one of the greatest albums of all time: Tommy.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

The story of Tommy centres around a protagonist of the same name. Tommy is born at a time when his father, who had been fighting in World War 1, is presumed dead. His mother moves on with her life, and soon meets a man who becomes her lover. However, a few years later, Tommy’s father returns home to find his wife with her lover. In a fit of rage, he murders the lover, unwittingly in front of Tommy. Both parents frightened of their secret getting out, they brainwash Tommy (“You didn’t hear it / you didn’t see it / you won’t say nothing to no-one…”), turning him deaf, dumb and blind.

Tommy’s parents become desperate to find their son a cure. They enlist the help of a hawker who claims he can cure him, but to no avail. The hawker’s wife – the Acid Queen – also claims she can cure Tommy, and injects acid into him, leaving him shaken by the hallucinogenic experience. Tommy soon becomes a victim of the cruel behaviour of those around him: his cousin Kevin tortures and bullies him, and his uncle Ernie begins molesting him. Tommy’s parents also become annoyed that their son will never find Christianity in his isolated state, and start to cease caring as much about him.

However, they are unaware that Tommy’s disability has gifted him with a sensitive sense of touch. Tommy begins playing pinball, and due to his ability to feel the slightest vibrations, is soon established as a prodigy. He wins the title of top pinball player from the highly-esteemed Pinball Wizard, and is idolised by pinball players around the world. But Tommy’s parents still wish to find a cure, and take him to a doctor who, again, claims to have a cure. The doctor’s tests establish that Tommy’s disability is psychological, and, after telling him to stand in front of a mirror, that he can see himself in the reflection. Later, his mother – in a fit of frustration regarding the fact that Tommy will never see or hear her – smashes the mirror that Tommy now almost permanently stares at, and magically cures him. Already worshipped by the world, Tommy now realises his power and begins a “religious” movement centring on playing pinball in a deaf, dumb and blind state. All goes well for a while, until Tommy’s followers realise the amount of control he is exerting on them, and revolt. Tommy again becomes deaf, dumb and blind, and presumably stays that way for the rest of his life.

According to Pete, the narrative of Tommy is inspired by the teachings of Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master who he had begun to follow. Recurring themes of Baba’s teachings, like love and introspection, connected with Pete and also became central to the album. Baba would go on to influence plenty more Who music, perhaps most famously with 1971’s ‘Baba O’Riley’.

Musically, Tommy is a departure from what The Who had been recording for the previous four years. Rejecting the power pop of before, the album centres around a harder, more overdriven brand of rock. However, their sound owes as much as always to the gifted and melodic bass and drums of John Entwistle and Keith Moon, the equally-talented, rhythmic guitar of Townshend and the amazing voice of Roger Daltrey – so some things stay the same!

Throughout their tours of 1969 and 1970, The Who performed much of Tommy live. The most iconic of these was their performance at Woodstock, immortalised by the festival’s accompanying film and album. They were supposed to be the second-to-last act on the Saturday of the festival, but by the time they got to play, it was the early hours of Sunday…

Tommy, in 1975, was adapted into a musical film. Directed by Ken Russell and produced by Robert Stigwood, Roger reprised his role as Tommy, who he also played on the album. His work in the film is stunning, and would begin an acting career for him. Ann Margaret was cast as Tommy’s mother, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. Other roles included Tina Turner as the Acid Queen, Elton John as the Pinball Wizard and Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie. This made the story of Tommy even more successful, the album already widely recognised as a masterpiece.

Inspired by the immense success of Tommy, Pete begins to write another rock opera in 1970, this time based around a complicated sci-fi plot: Lifehouse. However, this time, things wouldn’t go so well…

According to Who I Am, the story of Lifehouse begins in a dystopian future where rock music has been banned and almost completely wiped from the world. The world is collapsing, and the society’s citizens are effectively programmed and brainwashed into blindly following authority figures. To prevent an apocalypse, the government forces the citizens into a forced hibernation, plugging them into a prototype internet concept named ‘the Grid’. To make the forced hibernation somewhat bearable, and eventually freeing them from its constraints, various members of the society rebelliously set up the ‘Lifehouse’ and begin putting on live rock shows. Various citizens begin to hack into the Grid, and broadcast rock music. The society is drawn into the Lifehouse, and eventually end up entranced by a musical nirvana. In a way, there are a few parallels to the narrative of David Bowie’s classic album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, released in 1972 – in both stories, the world is about to end, and (in the beginning) the world’s interest in rock music has seriously diminished, for one.

Pete’s original plan for releasing Lifehouse was to hire the Young Vic Theatre in London, to work on the unfinished songs for the album in front of an audience, and get them involved in the development of the album. Once the material was developed enough, the concerts would eventually be filmed. Pete also purchased a number of synthesisers especially for the production of the album.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

However, when Pete began to tell the rest of The Who about Lifehouse, its misfortune also began to become clear. The rest of the band found it hard to grasp the concept of the album, and the cost of the album’s making was too large. It was scrapped in favour for a traditional rock album, which would become the highly-acclaimed Who’s Next. Many of the songs from Lifehouse found themselves on the track-listing of Next, and the album is sometimes named as the band’s best album. However, despite The Who’s ever-rising success, the desertion of Lifehouse devastated Pete. Songs from the rock opera would be released on many of the following Who albums and some of Pete’s solo albums. Some tracks originally on the aborted project – like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ – have gone on to become some of The Who’s best known songs.

A year after the release of Who’s Next, Pete – still eager to write another rock opera – began work on what would become the next Who album, and an album now also oft cited as one of rock’s great works of art: Quadrophenia. Though it was given mixed reviews at its original release, and remained overshadowed by Tommy, the album, in recent years, has begun to receive its proper due.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

The story of Quadrophenia is somewhat more realistic than that of Tommy, and centring around mod culture in mid-’60s London, is loosely based on The Who’s own experiences with the subculture during that time. The album’s protagonist is a teenage boy named Jimmy. He is diagnosed as schizophrenic early in the narrative, though refers to himself as ‘Quadrophenic’ in the liner notes that came with the original vinyl release. Each of Jimmy’s four personalities is based on the characteristics of each Who member. Each band member and their personality has one song each dedicated to them, and these, too, are referred to in the liner notes – Roger’s (“a tough guy; a helpless dancer,”) song was ‘Helpless Dancer’; John’s (“a romantic, is it me for a moment?”) was ‘Is It Me?’, a mini-song found inside ‘Dr Jimmy’; Keith’s (“a bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags,”) was ‘Bell Boy’, and Pete’s (“a beggar, a hypocrite, love reign o’er me,”) was ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. The album’s two instrumentals – ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘The Rock’ – plus opening track ‘I Am The Sea’ use the melodies of the four themes, as well.

The narrative begins with Jimmy, disillusioned with his life and desperate to find something that will set him apart from the crowd. He endures time with his parents and a psychiatrist, neither of whom seem to ‘get’ him, and a number of jobs which he can’t stand. However, after attending a Who gig, he discovers the mod subculture and realises it is just what he has been looking for. Jimmy completely invests himself into mod culture: he buys the hip clothing, uses the subculture’s drug of choice (speed), and rides everywhere on his recently-purchased scooter. Finally the ‘cool’ person he always wanted to be, Jimmy also enjoys hanging out with his new mod friends, although he sometimes finds them hard to keep up with. He even finds a mod girlfriend, but she eventually leaves him for his best friend, Dave. Jimmy travels to Brighton, the mod capital, and contributes to a riot with their rival gang, the rockers. Leading the entire ordeal is the head mod known as the ‘ace face’, who Jimmy idolises.

A little while later, Jimmy’s mental health problems get the better of him, and he ends up crashing his scooter and contemplating suicide. He leaves home and takes a train to Brighton, in an attempt to recreate the times he had enjoyed there previously as a mod. But as he walks past the local hotel, he spots the ‘ace face’ – who he once respected more than anybody – now working as a bell-boy, symbolising the superficiality of the subculture to him. Jimmy steals a boat and sails out to a rock by the sea, feeling that the world has betrayed him and that his life has all but wasted away. He sits on the rock, again contemplating suicide, getting soaked in the heavily-falling rain. The listener never discovers what happens to Jimmy on the rock.

Quadrophenia, again like Tommy, is something of a departure from The Who’s previous material. The songs – infused with the heavier “mod rock” of The Who’s first album, My Generation, and the synthier, artier rock of Who’s Next – contain much darker and realist lyrical matter than much of the band’s previous work. Because of these factors, I feel the songs are the most emotionally-charged and passionate of The Who’s catalogue. The performances from each member on the album are better than ever before: Entwistle’s bass work on ‘The Real Me’, and Daltrey’s vocals on ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ are often regarded as career highlights, for one. Arguably the best example of this is on the aforementioned ‘The Real Me’ – accompanying John’s incredible bass are stunning performances from the other three members, as well. Pete’s genius is arguably at its peak on the album, too, with it containing everything from killer riff-based rockers, to heart-wrenching synth-lead ballads, and everything in between!

The packaging of the original Quadrophenia vinyl release included a gatefold cover, on which the liner notes were printed, and a booklet containing the songs’ lyrics, and photographs to illustrate the story.

A picture from the booklet. (via coverlib.com)

A picture from the booklet.
(via coverlib.com)

A film adaptation of Quadrophenia was released in 1979, shortly after the tragic death of Keith in 1978. The movie starred Phil Daniels as Jimmy, but the most high-profile role was that of ‘Ace Face’, who was played by Sting. Quadrophenia was not filmed in a musical format, unlike Tommy, the music from the album instead woven into the background. (However, much of The Who’s early, mod-intended work is used in the storyline – such as the usage of ‘My Generation’ in a party scene – to sit alongside the cuts from the film’s namesake.) The storyline of the film also differs somewhat from that of the album, so in a way, they both stand as great works of art on their own.

Whilst Quadrophenia is usually considered the last iconic Who rock opera, they would go on to record one more: The Boy Who Heard Music. Beginning life as a novella written and published by Pete on his blog during 2005 and ’06 (which you can read on both his old blog and old website, via the Wayback Machine), the story was eventually adapted into a mini-opera named Wire and Glass, released as an EP in 2006. The band’s studio album from the same year, Endless Wire, also includes the mini opera, plus a number of songs that relate to its narrative. In 2007, a full rock opera on the narrative, sharing a name with the original novella, was performed as a live musical also. Unsurprisingly, the story of The Boy Who Heard Music is considerably lesser-known when compared to The Who’s other rock operas, and I have to admit that I haven’t listened to it in full, yet… However, one track from the full rock opera – ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ – was included on a 2004 compilation of some of The Who’s better-known songs, Then and Now.

Many of Pete’s solo albums are also, in a similar vein of much of is Who work, concept albums. 1985’s White City follows the stories of residents living in a housing estate in the ’60s; 1989’s The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townshend is a, well, musical adaptation of Ted Hughes’ sci-fi novel of the same name (and also features two songs boasting a personnel including all three surviving members of The Who); 1993’s Psychoderelict (including a few characters who would also find themselves in The Boy Who Heard Music) tells the story of a washed-up ’60s rockstar named Ray High. He has also revisited the concept of Lifehouse many times since its failure in the early ’70s, especially during the early-to-mid 2000s.

The Who’s work with the rock opera is incredibly interesting, and a testament to the genius of much of their discography. Under their ‘opera’ umbrella has come some of the greatest and most innovative albums + songs ever, that have certainly stood the test of time and continue to be discovered by many a music fan today!

At Woodstock.

At Woodstock.

His Majesty Prince Jones…

Rest in peace.

Rest in peace.

Today is July 3nd. On this day in 1969, around midnight, Rolling Stones founder, namer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool. He was 27.

Brian’s story is one of rock’s saddest tragedies. He was the founding Stone; he named them; he was their original “bad boy”. It was his persistence that helped them in the early days. He introduced them to the blues. But soon enough, Brian became ostracised from his band. His mental and physical health began to decline, leading to his untimely death.

Brian as a child

Brian as a child

Brian Jones was born on the 28th of February, 1942, in Cheltenham, England. He had two sisters, Pamela and Barbara. Pamela died when Brian was 3, of leukaemia.

Brian was a very intelligent kid. He had an IQ of 135. He excelled in school. Brian’s parents were both interested in music, and sent him to music lessons from an early age, translating their interest to their son.

When he was 15, Brian discovered jazz, changing him forever. He picked up saxophone and would soon begin guitar, foreshadowing his multi-instrumental genius with The Stones. He began to hang out in coffee clubs in Cheltenham, and played shows in many of them, too. His parents, however, did not approve of this.

Brian’s attitude also changed around this period. Although he had enjoyed school as a child, he grew tired of its sense of authority and conformity. He rebelled, leading to suspension on a couple of occasions. Brian’s attitude and musical passion made him somewhat of a loner. An ex from that period commented that “a lot of people didn’t understand him”. However, he still managed to get good grades, earning 9 O-levels and 2 A-levels.

Brian moved out of home at 17. He had fathered a string of illegitimate children, and — after quitting school  — spent the Summer travelling through Europe. Living on money from busking with his guitar, his cash eventually ran out and he returned to Cheltenham.

The Stones in 1962.

The Stones in 1962.

In 1962, Brian moved to London. He became entranced with the blues, and befriended musician Alexis Korner, who would stay a friend for the rest of his life. But perhaps the most defining moment of this period was when he placed an ad in the Jazz News, looking for members for an R&B band, which he named after Muddy Waters’ ‘Rollin’ Stone’. This caught the attention of two teenagers named Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. They went to see Brian play at Korner’s club, and were blown away by his magnificent slide guitar work on Elmore James’s ‘Dust My Broom’. Brian brought Mick and Keith into his band, and begun sharing a flat with them at 102 Edith Grove. After a succession of bassists and drummers — including future Pretty Thing Dick Taylor and, allegedly, future Kink Mick Avory — Brian settled on Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. The Stones were ready to become one of the biggest bands of the ’60s.

102 Edith Grove.

102 Edith Grove.

Around this time, Andrew Loog Oldham began managing The Stones with soon-to-be-ousted Eric Easton. Brian had been fulfilling this position until that point, and had been paying himself 5 pounds more for the job. The other Stones were not too pleased about this, to say the least, beginning the alienation between Brian and The Stones.

It didn’t take long for The Stones to become big. They released a few singles; adding his famous slide guitar to the Lennon/McCartney-written ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, adding some awesome harmonica to ‘Not Fade Away’. They released their self-titled debut (still a very Brian-lead affair) in 1964. However, Oldham decided that Mick would make a better “leader” of The Stones (a position also fulfilled by Brian ’till this point), and set out to make this so. And, in an attempt to equal the success of The Beatles, Oldham made Mick and Keith begin writing songs together, reducing Brian’s role in the band. (Though Brian wrote a film soundtrack, the melodies for ‘The Last Time’, ‘Paint It Black’ and ‘Under My Thumb’ and allegedly wrote ‘Ruby Tuesday’ with Keith, The Stones never recorded a song he wrote by himself.) The Oldham-Jagger-Richards troika took over from Brian as The Stones’ leader. They treated him horribly, and Brian soon became an outsider in the band he’d started. One scenario of such treatment is recounted in Paul Trynka’s excellent Brian biography: Brian was told to come into the studio to record ‘Little Red Rooster’, one day. However, he got to the studio only to discover that the other Stones had recorded their parts without him, and he was left to add overdubs. Though it was in part his fault, I feel that their treatment of him was particularly cruel and unnecessary.

Brian playing slide.

Brian playing slide.

Despite this, Brian added some simply stellar touches to The Stones’ catalogue, earning him the place as (arguably) the band’s greatest musician. He has been described by many as a bit of a musical genius. Some of his contributions include the marimba on ‘Under My Thumb’ and ‘Out Of Time’; the sitar on ‘Paint It Black’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’; the Appalachian dulcimer on ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘I Am Waiting’; the Mellotron on ‘2000 Light Years From Home’, ‘We Love You’ and ‘Stray Cat Blues’; recorder on ‘Ruby Tuesday’; saxophone on ‘Dandelion’… Not even mentioning his harmonica and slide guitar. Brian certainly had the ability to turn a good song into a classic!

Brian’s multi-instrumental-ism was not limited to The Stones, either. You know the saxophone on The Beatles’ ‘You Know My Name’? That’s Brian. It’s been argued that the oboe in ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ is him, too. He also sang backing vocals on ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’, on which he also clinked glasses. Brian was a good friend of The Beatles: he was particularly close to George, though was friendly with John and Paul, too.

brian and george 2

George and Brian.

However, as The Stones grew bigger, Brian’s demise began. The alienation he suffered from The Stones sent him into depression. To deal with his mental health issues, Brian started using drugs, and soon became addicted. Andrew continued to shine the spotlight on Mick + Keith and ignored Brian, which can’t have helped his already-underlying insecurity.

Around this period, Brian met Italian actress and model Anita Pallenberg. Together, they formed one of the most famous rock couples at the time, and were an icon of the blossoming counterculture. However, it was not to last. During Mick, Keith and Brian’s infamous trip to Morocco in 1967, Brian had been admitted to a hospital in France. Whilst he was gone, Keith and Anita had already begun a relationship. And when Brian rejoined the party in Morocco, Anita broke up with him and went to Keith after one too many fights. Brian was left stranded in the foreign country when Mick and Keith left unexpectedly. Already damaged, Brian’s mental health took a severe turn for the worse after the trip. And though Mick, Keith and Brian hadn’t been overly close since the 5 pound incident, they were never really friends, after Morocco.

Brian and Anita.

Brian and Anita.

By that time, Swinging London was a place of psychedelia. The Stones recorded AftermathBetween The Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request. Brian’s musicality is particularly evident on that trio (my favourite of the band’s work), and his skills added a certain psychedelic element to a number of tunes. Though many fans dislike Satanic Majesties, I’ve always enjoyed it for the magnificent instrumentation. Brian’s dress-sense also became quite psychedelic in this period. Always valuing style, he became a regular at the London boutiques and quickly turned into a style icon. Brian also went to Monterey Pop Festival, and introduced the Jimi Hendrix Experience, cementing his place in psychedelic history. (The title from this post is taken from The Animals’ song ‘Monterey’.)

Brian at Monterey.

Brian at Monterey.

Brian also wrote and recorded the soundtrack to A Degree of Murder, a film that Anita was in. Brian would also soon return to Morocco and record an album of the Master Musicians of Joujouka. The album would be released in 1971.

But Brian’s personal life was not getting any better. He was busted for drugs on the same night as Mick and Keith’s infamous ‘Redlands’ incident. However, though ‘Redlands’ made Mick and Keith into even stronger figures, Brian crumpled. Not long after, he was treated for a nervous breakdown. He spent a night in jail for possession and allowing weed to be smoked on his property, but was discharged with a fine and an order to seek professional help for his drug problem. Brian would be busted again, in 1968, which would be one of the final straws for his declining health.

Brian was becoming increasingly unreliable. He would turn up to the studio stoned, or in too bad a place to play — if he turned up at all. However, his mark can still be found on The Stones’ next album, Beggar’s Banquet. Arguably the best of these is his beautifully emotive slide guitar on ‘No Expectations’. In a way, the lyrics could be seen to be referring to Brian’s fall. But his guitar performance is simply amazing. It’s been referred to as his swan song.

Still, The Stones had almost completely marginalised Brian. And he’d become too depressed and addicted to add much. However, unlike the similar scenario that went on with Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett, The Stones didn’t really care. Which I find to be a horrible shame. Brian couldn’t tour legally, either, ‘cos of his possession record. On the 8th of June, 1969, Mick, Keith and Charlie went to Brian’s recently purchased Cotchford Farm (the former home of A. A. Milne), and informed him that he’d been replaced by guitarist Mick Taylor.

And just under a month later, just before midnight, Brian drowned in his swimming pool. Some say it was murder or manslaughter. Some say it was suicide. Some say it was “death by misadventure”, as his death certificate reads. Brian’s funeral was on the 10th of July. The only Stones to attend were Bill and Charlie. The band paid tribute to him at their famous Hyde Park Concert, where Mick read out ‘Adonais’ by Percy Shelley and thousands of butterflies were released in his memory.

The last pictures taken of Brian.

The last pictures taken of Brian.

In the aftermath of Brian’s death, many of his contemporaries paid tribute to him, too. Jimi Hendrix dedicated a song to him at one of his performances. Pete Townshend wrote a short poem to his old friend called ‘A Normal Day For Brian, A Man Who Died Every Day’. Jim Morrison also wrote a poem titled ‘Ode To LA While Thinking of Brian Jones, Deceased’, and wrote a song for him called ‘Tightrope Ride’. (Ray Manzarek changed the lyrics after Jim died, so they would refer to both Brian and Jim. Ironically, he died precisely two years after Brian, also at 27.)

Brian was one of the first members of the ’27 Club’, a group of people who died at 27. (Other “club members” include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and more recently, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.) The penultimate track on The Stones’ 1972 double album Exile on Main Street, Shine A Light, was written by Mick about his demise. Brian’s referenced in the name of indie band The Brian Jonestown Massacre. And many underground musicians have referenced him in their songs, including Robyn Hitchcock, The Drovers, Psychic TV and Tigers Jaw. In a way, Brian has become an underground figure, despite his associations with one of the biggest bands on Earth.

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Brian was a very complex guy. By many accounts, he could be sweet + shy one minute, and arrogant + manipulative the next. But still, he was a wonderful musician. He also had wonderful fashion taste, and helped create a more feminine look acceptable for men. And though The Stones have rarely talked positively of him recently, many others have talked of his influence. There must be a reason why others have said nice things about him. His death is incredibly heartbreaking, and not just because a life was lost. He could have gone on to do so many great things. He could have begun a new chapter of his life. But sadly, he never got the chance. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Brian was (my dad’s a Stones fan), and he’s fascinated me since I was a child.

So rest in peace, Brian. We’ll never forget you.

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The Rise and Fall of The Beatles’ Apple Boutique

The infamous Apple Boutique mural

The infamous Apple Boutique mural

There are some buildings and businesses in Beatles history which are so infamous and essential to their story, the musical associations and memories of which will long outlive the business or building itself. One of these could be the NEMS shop, the Epsteins’ business in Liverpool. AKA the shop where a “Raymond Jones” requested a copy of Tony Sheridan’s (and The Beatles’) ‘My Bonnie’, thus prompting Brian Epstein to discover The Beatles. Another of these in the infamous Apple Boutique, opened in 1967 around the birth of Apple Corps. The boutique is particularly well-known for a wildly psychedelic mural painted on its exterior. It, however, closed up shop less than a year later.

The Apple Boutique was situated on 94 Baker Street in London, and first opened its doors in December 1967. The concept behind the shop was to have everything in the shop for sale. A place of psychedelia, flower-power, gorgeous clothing and hippy-dom in general, Paul described it as “a beautiful place where beautiful people can buy beautiful things” when it opened. It’s documented that there was other reasoning, too, than just setting up a shop for the sake of it. They were told by Clive Epstein (Brian Epstein’s brother, who managed the band for a short while after Brian died) that if The Beatles didn’t spend a whole heap of money almost immediately, most of it would be lost to the taxman. They decided to open a business to spend the money, and decided that if they were going to do so, they might as well create a business about something they all liked. And hence how the Apple Boutique came about…

An invitation to the opening of the boutique

An invitation to the opening of the boutique

The Apple Boutique opened its doors for the first time on the 5th of December, 1967. There was an official opening party, with invitations like the above sent out to various people. These invitations told the invitee to come at 7:46, and that a fashion show will be at 8:16. Wikipedia points out the irony of these exact times, as the Apple Boutique was not exactly known for its organisational techniques (more on that later…) John and George were the only two Beatles who attended the opening, and since the shop didn’t have an alcohol licence, apple juice was the drink served at the night. The boutique was managed by John’s childhood friend, Pete Shotton, and Pattie Boyd’s sister Jenny.

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The Beatles were digging a Dutch design collective called The Fool, at the time. The Fool had painted John’s and George’s cars,and John’s and Paul’s pianos, and had designed the Sgt Pepper inner-sleeve… So it isn’t surprising that The Beatles decided to employ The Fool to help with the boutique. The design collective were given 100,000 pounds to stock and decorate the boutique.

In my humble opinion, the clothes that The Fool designed for the ill-fated boutique were absolutely exquisite! The shop was opened in the height of psychedelia and consequently, the clothes that were designed consisted of extravagant silks, velvet and vinyl of bright blues, pinks, reds, yellows and oranges, strings of colourful beads, bell-bottomed trousers (and sleeves!), gorgeous patterned textiles, crop tops, mini dresses, maxi skirts, kaftans…

Some designs...

Some designs…

More...

More…

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An original design

However, the tags attached to the clothing were made of silk. And the clothes themselves were also made of expensive threads. Due to this, the garments sold at the Apple Boutique were outrageously expensive. The boutique was often extremely busy, but actual purchases being made was quite rare. Theft, however, was alarming common in comparison. And it wasn’t just customers stealing the clothes — staff did, too. The shop was quickly losing money, probably because the entire business was so disorganised. Much like Apple Corps itself…

The expensive tags...

The expensive tags…

In 1968, a film called Hot Millions featured a scene filmed in the Apple Boutique. This scene provides one of the only ventures into the interior of the boutique, and also shows a couple of the designs:

However, the most famous thing about the Apple boutique is probably the mural painted on its exterior.

The mural.

The mural.

Fool member Barry Finch designed the mural for the leased shop, and got a bunch of art students to paint it on the facade of the building. The mural was inspired by a similar painting in Carnaby Street, though the Apple version was much more colourful. The mural gained the boutique a lot of attention, obviously!

However, the Westminster Council had not given The Beatles permission to paint the mural. Nor had the landlord of the building. Due to a bunch of complaints from other spoilsport shop-owners, they were told to paint over the mural. And when they didn’t, they were threatened with eviction. The mural was sadly painted over in minimalist white. Very much a sign of the generation gap.

After the mural

After the mural

Five months into to boutique venture, The Beatles bought up another ’60s boutique called Dandie Fashions, which had been frequented by themselves, The Stones and The Who in previous years. They renamed it Apple Tailoring. It closed down within a couple of months, with the boutique.

Dandie Fashions...

Dandie Fashions…

...into Apple Tailoring.

…into Apple Tailoring.

But the Apple Boutique wasn’t turning a profit. Theft was still way more common then actual purchases, and the shop venture was quickly sending The Beatles into bankruptcy. And so The Beatles decided to close down the boutique. But to get rid of the stock, they didn’t just have a sale or something of a similar ilk. On the closing day, everything in the shop was infamously to be given away. Apparently each customer was limited to 1 thing, but this wasn’t managed… By the end of the day, the shop was completely stripped.

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The building where the boutique was is now knocked down. In its place is now a Beatles memorabilia shop, and a Sherlock Holmes museum.

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Hope you all had a great week, and I shall post soon! Good day sunshine 🙂