Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sandwiches by Bob Peck

(via McSweeney’s)

AC/DC: Beer-battered kangaroo sausage, sliced hard-boiled egg, low-calorie port cheese, Dutch crunch.

Black Sabbath: Ham, stilton, LSD mustard, milled wheat bread.

Thin Lizzy: Chopped sausage, mincemeat, Jameson-shiitake reduction, soda bread.

The Beatles: Beef, ham, chicken, lamb, fondue sauce, dinner roll.

Wings: Sliced vegan haggis, wilted arugula, aged soy cheddar, rice bread.

Led Zeppelin: Arum sandwich with hummus, lettuce, 22 thin-sliced deli meats; side of Colman’s mustard.

Bob Dylan: Scrapple, melted pepper jack, hemp-seed garlic bread.

The Pogues: Gin-fed lamb, whiskey-marinated turkey, beer-braised pork shoulder, mustard, soda bread.

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Muhammad Ali v Oscar Bonavena, 1970 (Amazing LIFE Photos)

As was perhaps befitting of a man who had evolved from merely a cosmically gifted champion into a genuine global superstar, by the 1970s Muhammad Ali’s fights had become so much more than merely international sports events. As his fame grew and grew, so his fight-nights morphed into something extraordinary, almost surreal, somewhere between a catwalk show, a film premiere and a Harlem grindhouse. They became an irresistible whirlpool for celebrities, hustlers, pushers and pimps. Where the rich and not-so-famous came to strut, jive and swagger. To be seen and photographed. Where vanity and ego swelled cavernous arenas, the smell of greenbacks and chinchilla threatened to overwhelm. And where, frankly, what happened in the square ring was almost incidental.

The zenith of this ringside showboating was almost certainly Ali’s iconic 1971 championship fight against Smokin’ Joe Frazier, at Madison Square Garden, NYC (famously photographed, again for LIFE magazine, by a ticketless Frank Sinatra.) But here are some fantastic photographs of a slightly earlier contest, from 1970, against the cast-iron Argentine Oscar Bonavena, also at MSG.

They are a wonderful document of the time, the place…and the intoxicating attitude.

(For the record, Ali knocked out Bonavena in the 15th round. The only time the Argentine was stopped in his craeer.)

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Etta James – Only Women Bleed (Live)

Just stumbled across this live Etta James cover of Alice Cooper’s Only Women Bleed (1986).  Pained, unsentimental, raw. Gorgeous.

What Pop Music Owes to The Waste Land

“Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain”

This is a superb article by Dorian Lynskey, from last week’s Guardian online, on the debt pop music owes to TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. There can be few English students, and many others besides, on whom this colossal, transcendent poem has not left an indelible impression.  He’s right about teenagers. And musicians, too.

From Bowie to PJ Harvey (above), King Crimson, Van Morrison, The Pet Shop Boys to Chuck D…

Here is the link (with videos.) And the article in full:

The New Yorker critic Louis Menand, reflecting on TS Eliot’s transition from radical modernist to arch-conservative, wrote in a review of the poet’s letters: “He tried to shut the door on modern life. It was too late of course. He was the author of Prufrock and The Waste Land. He was already inside.”

Eliot would not have loved pop music but pop music loves Eliot. Ninety years after the publication of The Waste Land, he remains the lodestar poet for ambitious songwriters. They rummage through his masterpiece’s treasure chest of arresting phrases: the “violet hour” and “bodies naked on the low damp ground” quoted in the Sisters of Mercy’s Floorshow, “April is the cruellest month” kicking off Hot Chip’s Playboy or the “red sails” picked up by David Bowie on Lodger (Bowie told William Burroughs in 1974 that he’d “never read” Eliot but I suspect he got around to it).

Likewise 1915’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. “Like a patient etherized on a table” is paraphrased by avowed Eliot fan Win Butler inArcade Fire’s We Used to Wait, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” became a song title for Chuck D, and “the Eternal Footman” crops up in Tori Amos’s Pretty Good Year. “Alfred J Prufrock would be proud of me,” declare Manic Street Preachers on My Guernica. And 1925’s The Hollow Men lends its name to songs by Faust, Gravenhurst and Cocteau Twins. And on it goes: Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Van Morrison, Rush, EMF, Crash Test Dummies, Okkervil River, the Clientele … “This music crept by me upon the waters.”

But why Eliot, above all other poets? One simple reason is that he is widely taught in British and American schools and he impacts on the adolescent imagination with peculiar force. The Waste Land may be unfathomably complex but it is easy to love regardless of whether you understand it. The language is juicy and pungent, full of fire and rain, rivers and dust, birth and death – lots of death. I remember deriving a thrill of pleasurable dread from its sense of crisis and doom when I first read it as a teenager. Lines such as “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” or “This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper” (from The Hollow Men) would be at home on the back of a goth’s leather jacket. Eliot offers a vivid grown-up take on a teenager’s sense that all is not right with the world. At a difficult age you get the impression he’s on to something terribly important, even if you’re not sure what it is.

So the message resonates, in sometimes simplistic ways, but the medium also has much to teach songwriters. Just months after his death, on 4 January 1965, Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row described “Ezra Pound and TS Eliot/ Fighting in the captain’s tower.” You can understand the appeal to a man attempting to blast open the language of rock’n’roll in a period of sociopolitical flux. Eliot told Virginia Woolf that Joyce’s Ulysses, which he believed did in prose what The Waste Land did in verse, “destroyed the whole of the 19th century”. They were twin responses to the shattered postwar world – vast collages of competing voices which declared that the old ways were dead and new language was needed. But that new language was built from the bones of the old: a dizzying mosaic of allusion, quotation, pastiche and impersonation, assembled from ingredients gathered everywhere from the ivory towers to the saloon bars, ancient Greece to modern London, and inviting endless interpretation. It attempted to encompass everything in a way that could mean anything, which is a decent description of Dylan’s mission in Desolation Row. When Eliot, traumatised by the strain of composing The Waste Land, later dismissed it, he used a line you could imagine Dylan pitching to an earnest interviewer: “a piece of rhythmical grumbling.”

The poem remains a catalyst for jolting songwriters out of their usual approaches because of the relentless ventriloquism referenced in Eliot’s Dickens-quoting working title for The Waste Land, He Do the Police in Different Voices. The style enables you to open up a song’s meaning by sliding between characters and perspectives: not a single broadcast but a radio impatiently flitting between stations. Neil Tennant applied the technique to 80s London on West End Girls with its “too many shadows, whispering voices” in an unreal city where “we’ve got no future, we’ve got no past”.

Thom Yorke reached for it to evoke his own sense of dislocation and lurking horror on Paranoid Android’s neurotic babble of unidentified voices (“Please would you stop the noise”, “That’s it sir you’re leaving”, “Off with his head”) talking but not listening – “a heap of broken images”, to quote The Waste Land.

Eliot’s influence extends across the whole of PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, which pieces together voices and images from multiple decades and countries, and collapses all that history into a single ongoing commentary on war and nationalism. You often can’t tell which lines Harvey wrote herself and which she took from existing sources; among other things The Waste Land’s collage technique is a licence to borrow without shame. One blogger has pointed out the similarity between On Battleship Hill (“Jagged mountains jutting out/ Cracked like teeth in a rotting mouth”) and The Waste Land (“Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit”). The critic Donald Childs believes Eliot was actually referring to Gallipoli (the home of Battleship Hill), where his close friend Jean Verdenal had been killed in action. During the campaign Australian soldiers sang the risque song about Mrs Porter that is quoted in III: The Fire Sermon. Did Harvey know all of this or is it just a case of The Waste Land’s world of echoes setting off accidental echoes of its own?

This process is apt considering The Waste Land includes allusions to show tunes, operas, folk ballads and ragtime songs among its linguistic flotsam and jetsam. In one example of cultural baton-passing Eliot took the refrain “goodnight ladies” from a 19th-century folk song and thenLou Reed took it from him.

As Radio 4’s recent broadcast of The Waste Land demonstrated, it’s a poem that wants to be listened to. The Fire Sermon in particular is full of noise: gramophones and mandolins, throbbing engines and pealing bells, “a clatter and a chatter”. Read it aloud and before you begin to thrash out what it might mean you can hear the music humming in the wires of the verse – the “rhythmical grumbling” if you like. It’s above all this sensuous, enigmatic quality that continues to inspire songwriters who want to leave all their options open; to bathe in words, and the sound of words, without locking them into a single reading. Eliot once wrote: “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” True enough, many songwriters would say, especially if you can sing it.


The Indianapolis Speech, Jaws (1975)

 

The mighty, mighty Robert Shaw in Jaws (1975). It’s three and half minutes of near-perfection. Shaw acts his salty socks off, it is perfectly paced and it’s a crackling, taut piece of script-writing.

There is a lot of conjecture and mythology surrounding this scene; about authorship, what was improvised, what was scripted. About Shaw’s sobriety. So I was interested to read this excerpt from an interview with Steven Spielberg that sets the record straight…ish.

Steven Spielberg: I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie.

I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard, who wrote the script at the Bel Air Hotel and I was with him a couple times a week reading pages and discussing them.

Howard one day said, “Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.” I said, “Howard, what’s that?” And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page.

But then, when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said “Can I take a crack at this speech?” and John wrote a 10 page monologue, that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! (laughs) But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down. Robert himself was a fine writer, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth. Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech.

The full interview on Ain’t It Cool is here

And the full transcript of the monologue is…

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. We’d just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. 

Didn’t see the first shark for about a half-hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that in the water, Chief? You can tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know, was that our bomb mission was so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’ by, so we formed ourselves into tight groups. It was sorta like you see in the calendars, you know the infantry squares in the old calendars like the Battle of Waterloo and the idea was the shark come to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and sometimes that shark he go away… but sometimes he wouldn’t go away. 

Sometimes that shark looks right at ya. Right into your eyes. And the thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… ’til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all your poundin’ and your hollerin’ those sharks come in and… they rip you to pieces. 

You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks there were, maybe a thousand. I do know how many men, they averaged six an hour. Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water, he was like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist.

At noon on the fifth day, a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he spotted us, a young pilot, lot younger than Mr. Hooper here, anyway he spotted us and a few hours later a big ol’ fat PBY come down and started to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. 

Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

How about that for a pay-off line? Just brilliant…

Pumping Iron (1977)

Pumping Iron is a cult classic. A perfect piece of kitsch pop culture. Watching it again recently reminded me why.  It is brash, theatrical, surreal, horribly over-the-top, sometimes tender, (un)intentionally comic…in other words, an absolute treat.

Bodybuilding has always been an unusual sport. A bizarre marriage of unfettered testosterone and peculiar, obscured femininity. But it is also one that requires superhuman dedication, sacrifice and ambition. Pumping Iron captures this alternative world at is vainglorious, preening peak, as its “star”, the incomparable Arnold Schwarzenegger, lifts, boasts, bullies, taunts and struts his way to the 1975 Mr. Olympia title.

You either love or loathe Arnie, but on whichever side of the fence you fall (and there is much to dislike) he is a remarkable character. Watching him here is an enormous guilty pleasure as he crushes his friends and foes alike, exploiting physical and psychological weaknesses wherever he finds them, imposing his extraordinary, relentless will on everyone and everything.  He is cruel, charismatic, intelligent, and desperate for attention…for all the attention. He is an enormous, pompous, muscular slab of peacock. The king. And this is his court. It is absolutely captivating.

Others come into his orbit – Franco Columbo, the hugely likeable but slightly tragic Lou Ferrigno (and his overbearing Brooklynite father who pushes and parades his son like demented ringmaster), the quiet family-man Mike Katz, Ken Waller, Serge Nubret – but however close they may have been to Arnold (Columbo was a longstanding friend) if they are not useful, they are ultimately useless. The ego drives everything and nothing else matters except victory. His mental dismantling of Ferrigno is equal parts heart-breaking and thrilling.

Pumping Iron launched Arnold’s career, and watching him here you are aware that his star is in its ascendancy – as, you feel, is he as his swaggers his way to triumph. But without his arrogance and absurdity, Pumping Iron goes from being a fantastic study of human nature to a merely interesting exploration of a weird and wonderful underworld that few of us would ever glimpse.

It is one of those rare documentaries that by both luck and design captured perfectly a place and time. It is completely bonkers and utterly brilliant.

The full documentary is on YouTube. Here is part 1 of 12:

Woodkid “Run Boy Run”

Another amazing video from the French Indie rocker, Woodkid (dir. Yoaan Lemoine).

Iron (2011), also directed by Lemoine, is below, too.